Government reforms (2): 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’.

Shared parental leave 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.

The Government consulted on the new system and sought views on how the administration of the new right would operate in practice.  The Government published its response to the consultation on 29 November 2013.  We reported on this in our December 2013 Newsletter Government reforms(1): shared parental leave.

What is the news?

The Government has now published draft regulations on the new shared parental leave and pay regime, on which it is seeking views.  The regime is available for births and adoptions from April 2015. The Bill is intended to receive Royal Assent on 21 March 2014 and in theory the final version of the regulations could be laid any time after that.

The draft regulations reflect the Government’s response to its consultation last year and are lengthy and complicated: containing lots of detail about entitlement to shared leave and pay; the mechanics of requesting and taking leave; terms and conditions during leave and on return to work; redundancy; KIT days and protection from detriment and unfair dismissal.

The key points are:

  • only employees with 26 weeks’ service will qualify for the right to take shared parental leave;
  • employees will have to give eight weeks’ notice of their intention to opt-in to shared parental leave and of any subsequent request for leave;
  • when a couple initially opts-in to the shared parental leave system, they will have to give a non-binding indication of how they are intending to take their shared parental leave;
  • the number of notifications, or changes to, shared parental leave that employees will be able to give will be limited to three, unless the employer is willing to allow more requests;
  • employers will not be obliged to agree to the leave pattern proposed by their employees.  The default position where agreement cannot be reached will be for an employee to take their share of the leave in one continuous block;
  • shared parental leave will have to be taken within 52 weeks of a child’s birth;
  • 20 days’ work will be available to each parent during shared parental leave.  This will be in addition to the Keeping in Touch (KIT) days a woman can take during maternity leave; and
  • the right to return to the same job will apply to employees returning from any period of leave that includes maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave that totals 26 weeks or less in aggregate, even if the leave is taken in discontinuous blocks.

What do we think?

Although undeniably good news for modern working couples and probably for society as a whole, shared parental leave will no doubt cause headaches for employers.

Issues will no doubt arise around agreeing patterns of leave and the complexity of combining shared parental leave with other family-related rights.

We had been looking forward to the draft regulations providing some clarity on the proposals and an untying of the knot of complexity.  However, the regulations are so complex that it may be some time before it is really clear how shared parental leave will work in practice.  If and when this happens we’ll be sure to update you.