Shared parental leave - who’s holding the baby?
The draft regulations for shared parental leave, which will be issued under the Children and Families Bill 2013-2014, were recently published. The regulations will come in to force in 2015, and apply to parents of babies due on or after 5 April 2015, or children placed for adoption on or after that date. This may seem a long way away, but it would be beneficial for employers to begin to familiarise themselves with these detailed regulations in order that they can start preparing for their introduction.
So what is shared parental leave?
The draft regulations give one or both parents the option of taking shared parental leave once a mother who is entitled to statutory maternity leave has finished that leave, or a parent taking adoption leave has finished that leave. The total period of shared parental leave is 52 weeks, minus the period of maternity or adoption leave taken. The shared leave only applies to employees with a working partner, and both parents must meet the qualifying conditions (both employees are required to have 26 weeks continuous employment at the end of the 15th week before the EWC (Expected Week of Confinement) or the week they are notified of an adoption match). Shared parental leave will be paid at a statutory rate, unless the employer decides to offer an enhanced pay (which would have to apply to both male and female employees) and is only payable for 39 weeks. It is important to note that the number of weeks paid maternity leave or paid adoption leave would be deducted from the 39 weeks.
How will this work in reality?
Employees will be entitled to one continuous period of shared parental leave, and examples of this are: *The parents split the leave equally, i.e. the mother takes the first 6 months and the father the following 6 months. *The parents take leave at the same time, i.e. they both stay at home with the child for up to 6 months.
However as part of the regulations employees may request several periods of shared parental leave. Employers do have the option of suggesting alternative dates if the dates the employee has requested are not suitable for the employer, or the employer can refuse such a request, in which case the employee will be entitled to one period of continuous leave.
Employers will need to ensure that they have clear guidelines in place so everyone i.e. the employer and the employee wanting to take the leave knows what is expected of them and when. The regulations do not state that there needs to be liaison between employers with regards to their employees taking parental leave.
Employers need to be aware that the current unpaid parental leave provision will remain in place and (employees with one year’s continuous employment have the right to take 18 weeks unpaid parental leave (capped at a maximum of 4 weeks leave per year) for each child up to the age of 5). Also, additional paternity leave will be abolished when the shared parental leave regulations come in next year.