Shared Parental Leave ("SPL")

BIS survey reveals that more than half of men believe that childcare should be shared between parents

Shared Parental Leave (“SPL”) is a new scheme which will come into effect for employees whose baby is due (or a child is placed for adoption) on or after 5 April 2015. It will have significant implications for both employers and employees. The intention behind the new scheme is to allow families more choice over how they look after their children in the first year.

From 5 April 2015, employees will have the same rights to maternity leave and ordinary paternity leave that they currently have but the system of additional paternity leave will be abolished. In its place, where the eligibility criteria are met, mothers will be able to convert up to 50 weeks of their maternity leave and 37 weeks of their statutory maternity pay into SPL and pay, and share it with their partner.

Nick Clegg heralds the scheme as providing a choice for parents wanting more flexibility and choice when it comes juggling home and work lives, saying “This Edwardian notion that women should stay at home while men go out and support the family has simply no place in this day and age.”

It seems that there is support for this scheme from the British public.  The BIS survey questioned 2,000 people where 63% of women and 23% of men were currently the main childcare provider with the remaining parents either sharing childcare equally or receiving external support.  Attitudes have clearly changed as 53% of respondents thought that childcare should be shared equally between parents and of that 53%, a higher percentage of men than women (56% compared with 50%) took this view.  Only a quarter of those surveyed believe that childcare should be the mother’s main responsibility.

Whilst this is all well in principle it is common sense that parents will not opt into a scheme which will leave them financially worse off.  Currently a mother is paid 90% of her salary during the first six weeks of her maternity leave. In reality no woman would want to curtail her maternity leave and opt into a SPL scheme where she, or her partner, would only be entitled to statutory shared parental pay.

Some employers currently offer enhanced maternity pay schemes.  The government has recently announced that it will pay enhanced pay for public sector workers taking SPL.  Private sector employers will need to consider whether they should follow the example of the public sector by offering enhanced pay for mothers and partners taking SPL. This gives rise to both legal and practical considerations for employers; for example, increased costs and the potential for discrimination claims if men and women are treated unequally.  

If, as the survey suggests, there is support for the scheme, it is likely that employers will soon be facing requests from employees regarding their entitlements. The rules surrounding entitlement and requests are complicated.  Employers need to act now to ensure that they fully understand the statutory scheme in order to deal with requests from employees.