Government reforms (1): Shared parental leave

shared parental leave - man with childWhat do we already know?

In November 2012 the Government announced that it intended to introduce a new system of statutory parental rights to allow both partners to take leave at the same time for babies due on or after 5 April 2015.

This has become known as ‘shared parental leave’, which will allow eligible mothers and their partners to be absent from work to care for a child for up to 52 weeks (with shared parental pay for 39 of those weeks).  The basics are:

  • the mother of a new baby will be able to convert statutory maternity leave and pay into shared parental leave (SPL) and shared parental pay (SPP);
  • this will be available for the two parents to share, provided they satisfy the eligibility test; and
  • parents will decide between them how much each will take, and whether to take time off in turns or together.

Although the essence of the new right was straightforward, the administration of the new system needed more careful consideration.  In order to help to ensure that the system works for parents and employers alike, in February 2013 the Government published its consultation, Modern workplaces: shared parental leave and pay – administrative consultation (see our March 2013 Newsletter Shared parental leave: consultation).  This sought views on how the administration of the new right would operate in practice.

What is the news?

The Government has now published its response to the above consultation. This confirms how this new right for parents will work in practice.

The Government will be producing guidance to accompany the legislative changes.  However, in the meantime, the headline points from the Government response are:

  • Employees will have to give notice to their employers of their intention to opt into the shared parental system. In doing so, employees will have to provide a non-binding indication of their expected pattern of leave.
  • A couple will be able to take the leave together so that the mother will not necessarily return to work after compulsory maternity leave. Alternatively, the mother could return to work and allow her partner to take the balance of leave, or the couple could take the leave in turns.
  • Employees must give 8 weeks notice to take specific periods of leave, or to change a previous notification.  This will include a 2-week discussion period with their employer.
  • Employees will be allowed up to a maximum of three notifications of a period of leave or variations of a period of leave unless both employer and employee agree by mutual consent that a request will not count towards the cap. This means employees will be able to take a maximum of 3 blocks of leave unless their employer agrees to more.
  • A notice to end maternity leave in order to start shared parental leave will be binding when given prior to birth. A mother will have 6 weeks from birth to revoke this binding notice.
  • There will be a cut-off point of 52 weeks from birth for couples to take shared parental leave.
  • Parents will be able to have up to 20 ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days at work per parent whilst on shared parental leave. This will be in addition to the KIT days a woman can take during maternity leave.  KIT days during shared parental leave will be given a new name, to avoid confusion with maternity KIT days.
  • Employees who take SPL will have the right to return to the same job if the total leave taken (including any maternity, paternity or adoption leave) amounts to no more than 26 weeks.

What do we think?

Although undeniably good news for modern working couples, shared parental leave will no doubt cause headaches for employers, particularly around agreeing patterns of leave.  It will certainly add to the already complex issue of interlocking family-related rights.

There had been promises to harmonise the notification rules applying to the different categories of child-related leave, which would have started to help simplify the family friendly regime, but this appears to have slipped from the agenda.

We look forward to receiving clarity on the proposals when the necessary Regulations are drafted and we’ll be sure to update you.