Shared parental leave – it’s here!
Shared parental leave has been on the cards for some time and it is finally about to be implemented, with rules coming into effect on 5th April.
The new system forms part of the government’s approach to introduce more “family friendly” laws into the workplace to allow men and women to play a more even role in raising their families and progressing their careers.
These changes have been drilled as the ‘biggest shake up in parental employment laws in a decade’ and this article looks to inform you on what exactly these changes will mean.
Parents of babies due on or after 5th April 2015 will be able to take advantage of the new shared parental leave system. The new system will allow parents to balance their work and family commitments by allowing parents to choose to be at home together to care for their child or to be at home at different times.
The shared parental leave system has complex rules that both employers and employees will need to navigate. This article highlights some of the key features of the new system.
(1) The new rights
Subject to eligibility tests, parents can share up to 50 weeks shared parental leave and 37 weeks of shared parental pay during the first year of the baby’s life.
(2) Impact on maternity leave
New mothers will still have the right to statutory maternity leave for a maximum of 52 weeks and statutory maternity pay of 39 weeks and will only share their entitlements if they wish to do so.
Mothers will still have to take two weeks compulsory maternity leave (four weeks for factory workers) immediately after the birth. However, after that time they are free to share the remainder of their maternity leave (50/48 weeks) and pay (37 weeks) with their partner.
A mother can share parental leave with the child’s father, her spouse, civil partner or partner.
(3) Impact on paternity leave
Fathers will still be eligible for two weeks ordinary paternity leave and pay at £139.58 per week but additional paternity leave will no longer exist.
It is worth noting that from 1st October 2014 fathers or the partner of an expectant mother became entitled to take unpaid time off to attend up to two ante natal appointments.
(4) Who can take shared parental leave?
The mother must be eligible for maternity leave, allowance or pay in order to be able to take shared parental leave. She can then share leave with the child’s father, her spouse, partner or civil partner.
An employee who takes shared parental leave must have caring responsibilities for the child. They must also have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks at the 15th week before the baby’s due date and they must remain employed during the period that they take shared parental leave.
An employee must also have made a declaration to their employer that their partner meets the necessary income and employment requirements.
The complex eligibility tests mean that in some cases a male employee will be able to take leave even if the mother is unemployed or self employed when the baby is born.
(5) Starting shared parental leave
The first step is for the mother to bring her maternity leave to an end. This can be done by giving her employer eight weeks’ notice or simply by returning to work.
Both parents then need to inform their employers that they intend to share parental leave. The parents must give their employers at least eight weeks’ notice before the date on which they intend to take shared parental leave.
(6) When can shared parental leave be taken?
A mother and her partner can take shared parental leave together or separately. Shared parental leave can be taken in one continuous block or in separate blocks, of at least one week each. Shared parental leave must be taken before the child’s first birthday.
Parents are allowed up to three opportunities to submit requests for shared parental leave. Employers do not have to consider any additional requests, but may wish to do so.
If a parent makes a request for continuous leave (e.g. one month’s continuous leave), as part of the first three requests, then that request must be granted. An employer does not have to grant a request for a period of discontinuous leave (e.g. two weeks leave, two weeks back at work, two weeks leave).
(7) Employee’s rights
Parents’ employment rights, apart from pay, remain the same whilst they take shared parental leave. Eligible parents will be entitled to shared parental pay of £139.58 per week (with effect from 5th April 2015).
Whilst taking shared parental leave, parents can work up to 20 ‘keep in touch’ days, with the agreement of their employer, without bringing the shared parental leave to an end. Mothers are also still entitled to the 10 ‘keep in touch’ days available as part of their maternity leave.
Parents are entitled to return to their same job if they have been on leave for 26 weeks or less. Parents who have been on leave for more than 26 weeks are entitled to return to the same job or, if it is not reasonably practicable, to a similar job on no less favourable terms.
Action to take:
(1) Update your existing maternity, paternity and adoption leave policies and procedures – it is also worth considering whether to enhance shared parental leave and pay so that it is consistent with your other parental leave policies (if they are also enhanced)
(2) Introduce a new shared parental leave policy – make sure that you have a clear policy and the necessary accompanying forms to help both employees and management understand the key elements of shared parental leave.
(3) Educate management and HR on the new system – Your managers and HR team will be the first to receive requests from employees to take shared parental leave. They need to be able to deal with the requests, verifying employee eligibility, timescales etc. It is vital that they understand the new rules.
(4) Keep written records – make sure that written records are produced and maintained so that you can monitor employees’ eligibility for shared parental leave, how much shared parental leave and pay they have taken and other issues, such as the reasons for rejection of requests for discontinuous leave.
At GA Solicitors we have an experienced employment department who can help you navigate the new shared parental leave system. Please do not hesitate to contact Rhiain Lewis (01752 513532 / rhiain.lewis@GAsolicitors.com) or Rob Zacal (01752 513549 / robert.zacal@GAsolicitors.com).
DISCLAIMER: This article is just a summary of the new complex shared parental leave rules and does not constitute legal advice. GA Solicitors will not be held liable for any reliance on this guide.