Employers need to be alive to a new system of statutory parental rights. This will effectively allow parents to share the statutory maternity leave and pay that is currently available only to mothers (and adoptive parents to share the adoption leave and pay that is currently only available to the primary adopter).
This reflects the 2010 election manifesto of both the Conservative and Liberal Democratic Parties to introduce a more flexible system for both parents to take leave on the birth or adoption of a child.
The new system is contained in the Children and Families Act 2014 and came into force on 5 April 2015. It applies to all parents whose children are born on or after 5 April 2015, or for children placed for adoption on or after that date.
It will fall to employees to propose the pattern of leave that they wish to take and to discuss this with their individual employers. The current entitlement to 52 weeks of maternity leave (39 weeks paid) will remain the default position for all employed women, as will the two week period of compulsory maternity leave.
However if the parents wish to move onto the new scheme, the Government proposes that the new system of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Shared Parental Pay (SPP) will work as follows:
- Qualifying parents will be able to share between them up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay (which is everything other than the compulsory maternity leave period). The mother will be entitled to give notice that she wishes to end her maternity leave and start SPL before the child’s birth. However she can change her mind within six weeks of the birth
- Both parents will need to give their respective employers eight weeks’ notice to begin SPL and claim SPP. If they wish to take several blocks of leave they must give their employers eight weeks’ notice in respect of each period of leave. The eight weeks will include a two week discussion period between the employer and employees
- It is worth noting that parents will be able to take SPL at the same time as each other or separately
- Each employee can make up to three notifications for leave or change the periods of leave, inclusive of the original request to take SPL. However, it will be open to the employer and employee to agree further periods if leave or changes if this works for both parties
- Employers should take some assurance that they will not be obliged to agree to the SPL pattern proposed by their employees. The parents’ respective employers will not need to contact each other to discuss their employees’ leave entitlement. The default position where agreement cannot be reached will be for a parent’s portion of leave to be taken in one continuous block, to start on a date of their choice
The Government has published a Shared Parental Leave and Pay: Employer Guide which is available on the ACAS Website: www.gov.uk.
Employers are best advised to give thought to incorporating a policy setting out the rules and procedures for applying and taking Shared Parental Leave.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.