Shared Parental Leave – are you prepared?
Employment law solicitor Natalie Ruane reminds us about the new rules on sharing leave after the birth of a child, which applies to the parents of all babies born on or after 5th April 2015.
The new rules on sharing leave after the birth of a child will apply to the parents of all babies born on or after 5th April 2015.
Although traditional maternity leave will continue to be available to mothers after that date, parents of newly born children will be allowed to share a combined total of up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay between them instead if they would prefer. That shared leave can be taken concurrently, consecutively or alternatively with gaps in between where one or other of the parents returns to work. The only caveats are that the 2 week compulsory maternity leave period will still apply straight after a child’s birth and the mother will have to curtail her maternity leave, pay and/or allowance in order for the father or the mother’s partner to be able to take their share of the leave/pay. Similar rights will apply to parents who adopt.
8 weeks before the first period of leave is due to start, the parents must notify their employer of their wish to use the shared parental leave scheme.
Employers are allowed to request proof of eligibility including the child’s birth certificate and details of the other parent’s employer. If the parents fail to produce the documents, the leave can be delayed or refused.
If the parent has given notice of an intention to take one continuous period of shared parental leave, the parent is entitled to take that leave without any further consideration by the employer provided the correct documentation has been produced.
However, where the period of shared leave requested by a parent is discontinuous (i.e. there are intended to be gaps in between periods of leave during which the parent intends to return to work), the employer can take advantage of a ‘consideration period’ of up to two weeks after receiving the request/notice. During the consideration period the employer can agree to the requested leave, propose alternative dates or refuse the request.
Parents will also be able to give notice to vary any dates selected for shared leave, as well as changing how that leave is taken. Their proposals can be changed up to three times including withdrawing the notice to take shared parental leave altogether if the parents change their mind completely and, for example, the mother decides that she would prefer to take the full period of maternity leave available to her.
Employers will need to think carefully about pay options. Although enhanced/contractual maternity pay has been quite common in larger organisations, enhanced paternity pay has been less widely implemented. Henceforth, employers that provide only enhanced maternity pay may face discrimination claims from fathers who want to take advantage of the shared parental leave scheme but feel that they are being put at a financial disadvantage compared to a woman taking such leave. Employers will need to consider whether contractual pay will be made available to women who take shared parental leave instead of traditional maternity leave and/or whether enhanced pay will be offered to fathers as well as mothers during the shared leave period. At the very least, employers will need to give some thought as to whether parents will be able to share whatever contractual pay is on offer when shared leave is taken instead of traditional maternity leave.
In addition to issues surrounding pay, managing cover for shared parental leave is likely to be more problematic than covering a single period of maternity leave. Asking other staff to provide cover may be unrealistic because of existing workloads. Imposing additional burdens on other staff can also create bad feeling among staff without families who are asked to take on more, potentially without any increase in pay. Using temporary cover could increase costs and may not be suitable for skilled roles. In which case problems may also arise if the requested periods of leave are discontinuous and the same temporary worker isn’t available for all of the requested leave periods. However, employers have to be aware that it is only periods of discontinuous leave that can be rejected. Requests for a single, continuous period will need to be granted automatically just as maternity leave is now. So whether the leave is requested by the mother or the father, employers should start thinking ahead as to how best to deal with any such absences.
The new regulations are complex and accommodating requests will require much more flexibility than most employers are used to. Most importantly, employers need to be ready to provide cover for male employees as well as female staff going forward. One of the best steps employers can take at this stage is to ensure a clearly worded policy is in place setting out how requests will be dealt with. Communication with employees so that appropriate plans can be made will be key.
Any employers with queries as to how the new rules might affect them can contact Natalie Ruane at Burnetts Solicitors on 01228 552 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org or can attend our seminar in Penrith on 30th April 2015 – see www.burnetts.co.uk/events for more details.
About the author
Natalie is a Partner and leads the Employment Law & HR team and specialises in education.
Published: Friday 27th March 2015