New Regime For Working Parents To Share Parental Leave

For babies due or children placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015 mothers, fathers or adopters will be able to take Shared Parental Leave (“SPL”) during the first year after the child’s birth or adoptive placement. The entitlement to leave will remain at 52 weeks and the entitlement to pay will remain for 39 weeks. The main features of the new regime of shared parental leave are as follows:

  • The two week period of compulsory maternity leave remains in place
  • Apart from the two week compulsory maternity leave period, the entitlement to a 52 week leave period can be split between both parents and can be taken concurrently or consecutively, so that parents can take leave together or separately
  • An employee can issue up to three leave notifications if they wish to take several blocks of leave and they need to provide notice of at least eight weeks before the intended start date of leave
  • The right to return to the same job is maintained for any period of leave of up to 26 weeks (taken concurrently or not). After 26 weeks an employee will have the right to return to the same or a similar job
  • Each employee can take up to 20 Keeping in Touch (KIT) days

There are two related provisions which come in to effect on 1 October 2014:

  • The right not to be subjected to a detriment for requesting SPL comes in six months before so employers need to consider making changes to their policies sooner rather than later.
  • Fathers and partners will be able to take unpaid time off work to attend up to two antenatal appointments where each lasts no more than 6.5 hours.  Again, when you are updating your policies you should also be amending the policies to allow for this entitlement.  You may also want to consider requiring the employee to provide proof of any such appointments.

The new right to SPL raises a number of issues which are yet to be worked out in practice. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (“BIS”) is currently working on a range of information and guidance to assist in understanding how the changes will operate.

A number of issues may cause problems for employers. There is likely to be an administrative burden for employers who may only have as much as eight weeks’ notice of a request from a new parent to take a chunk of time out of the business. If the employee requests to take the leave as non-consecutive periods then, subject to restrictions (yet to be specified) employers can refuse the request.   

A further issue relates to the impact on enhanced maternity schemes. In organisations where the mother benefits from an enhanced maternity leave package but the father would not this could lead to claims of discrimination by men. A man on shared parental leave may be able to claim that he is being treated less favourably than a woman on an enhanced maternity leave package.  Employers may want to consider aligning their shared parental leave policy to their maternity packages to ensure consistency of treatment. It seems unlikely that fathers will choose to take SPL if they do not have parity with their female counterparts.

When further detail of how the new right to SPL will work in practice is published we will provide an update in this bulletin. In the meantime we advise that employers start thinking about the approach they want to take and diarise a date for conducting a full review and update of their “family friendly policies”.

If you would like to discuss updating your family friendly policies please contact Gareth Roberts or any member of the Employment Team.