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Changes to Family Rights

For most people, Christmas is a time for family so, although changes to the current systems of maternity and paternity are not expected until April 2015, we thought that we would use this month’s e-bulletin to highlight the likely impact of the Government’s announcement on 29th November that its flexibility proposals are back on the agenda.  

It was back in November 2012 that the Government first raised the possibility substantial changes to maternity and paternity rights with a view to introducing more flexibility as to who and when leave is taken after the birth of a child.

The consultation on the original proposals formally closed in May this year and the Government has been working on its response and plans ever since.

At the end of last month, the Government’s final proposals were revealed. The key features are:

•    Greater ability to share parental leave – a maximum of fifty two weeks leave will be available. Except for the first two weeks (which will still be classed as compulsory maternity leave), an eligible couple will be able to share all of the remaining fifty weeks in whatever pattern they see fit. The couple will be able to take the leave in turn, in small blocks rather than all in one go, or even to take the leave together. The mother will not necessarily need to return to work for the partner to be able to take his share of the leave. 
•    Notice provisions - Employees will have to give notice of their intention to opt into the shared parental leave scheme and they will have to indicate, before the birth, what their leave plans are.  However, protection for mothers will be built into the system so a mother will have up to 6 weeks after the birth to give the employer notice that she has decided to drop out of the shared scheme and will take all of the leave herself. 
•    Changing plans – in addition to mothers being able to drop out completely, the patterns of leave set out in the original pre-birth notification won’t be binding. However, employees will only be able to change their plans twice after submitting that original notice unless changes are mutually agreed between the employer and employee.  In addition to which, the employee will have to provide at least eight weeks of notice, which will include a two week “discussion” period with the employer, before taking any leave. 
•    Return to work - the right to return to the same job will be maintained for employees returning from any period of leave of 26 weeks or less (including maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave) even if the leave is taken in non- consecutive blocks.
•    Keeping in touch days – the 10 keeping in touch days for women on maternity leave is being maintained but an additional right of up to 20 days of keeping in touch is being introduced for couples who have chosen to share the parental leave to help ease them back into work after periods of absence.

Draft regulations still need to be produced which will give us more details as to exactly how the new scheme will work but employers need to prepare for an environment in which both the mother and her partner might be absent after the birth and for those absences to be for shorter “chunks” of time rather than the full year that we are all used to dealing with.  These are big changes so employers need to start thinking about how to manage them now so that they are prepared when the changes take effect in 18 months’ time.

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Published: Tuesday 17th December 2013
Categorised: Employment

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