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Shared Parental Leave – Are You Ready?

Employment law solicitor Natalie Ruane discusses the new regulations implementing shared parental leave, which come into force in December.

The regulations implementing shared parental leave come into force in December. The first families who can benefit from the greater flexibility that those regulations will introduce will be those with babies born on or after 5th April next year. However the changes are so fundamental that businesses need to start thinking about how they are going to deal with any requests now so that they are prepared.

Although traditional maternity leave will continue, the main change is that  parents of newly born or newly adopted babies, and in some cases a mother and her partner, will be allowed to share a combined total of up to 50 weeks of parental leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay between them. That shared leave can be taken concurrently, alternatively or with gaps. The only caveats are that a two 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 to benefit. A similar right will be conferred on parents who adopt a child. 

Notice

Eight 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 father or partner’s employer. If the parents fail to produce the documents, the leave can be delayed or refused.

Where the period requested by a parent is discontinuous, the employer is entitled to take advantage of a ‘consideration period’ of up to two weeks, during which they can agree to the requested leave, propose alternative dates or refuse the request. Where the request is for one continuous period of shared parental leave, however, the parent is entitled to take that leave without any further consideration by the employer provided the correct documentation has been produced.

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 varied up to three times including withdrawing the notice to take shared parental leave if the parents change their mind completely.

Pay

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 feel that they are being put at a disadvantage.

Managing cover

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 and risks creating bad feeling among staff without families who are asked to take on more, potentially without any increase on 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. This may make planning cover for shared parental leave difficult for employers.

The new regulations are complex and accommodating requests will require much more flexibility than most employers are used to. 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. Really 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 55 22 22 or nr@burnetts.co.uk or can attend our seminar at Energus in Workington on 18th November – see www.burnetts.co.uk/events for more details.

About the author

Natalie Ruane profile photo

Natalie Ruane

Natalie leads the Employment Law & HR team and specialises in education.

Published: Monday 27th October 2014
Categorised: Employment

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