Currently mothers or primary adopters are entitled to maternity or adoption leave which allows for 52 weeks’ leave and co-parents are entitled to take two consecutive weeks of paternity leave (co-parental leave). As well as this there is a provision for additional paternity (co-parental) leave whereby employed co-parents can take up to 26 weeks’ leave once the mother or primary adopter has returned to work, this can be started after the child is 20 weeks old and no later than a year after birth or adoption.
The current provisions are set to be replaced by a new regime of shared parental leave (ShPL). So this will mean that mothers of babies due on or after 5 April 2015 or for children who are placed for adoption on or after that date, will be able to bring their maternity or adoption leave to an end early and convert the balance of the leave into ShPL. This leave can be taken by either of the baby’s parents (or, in some cases, the mother's husband or partner) in periods of a week or multiples of a week. ShPL cannot be taken after the baby's first birthday or a year after adoption.
The new provisions are designed to be much more flexible to parents and to help challenge the gender stereotypes around parenthood. So as mentioned above the shared parental leave entitlement will begin for babies due on or after the 5th April 2015 or children placed for adoption on or after this date. You may be thinking why are we telling you of this legal update now. The reason is that eligible employees will soon be informing you of their intention to take ShPL.
To qualify for leave, an employee must have 26 weeks' continuous employment at the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (EWC) or at the week in which an adopter was notified of having been matched with a child for adoption and remain in that employment when the leave is taken. The employee's partner must also satisfy minimum employment and earnings criteria to be eligible for ShPL.
How does this work in practice?
1. Employees who are eligible for ShPL must notify their employer of their entitlement and intention to take leave at least eight weeks before their first period of leave.
2. The notification must be accompanied by declarations from both parents about their entitlement to take ShPL and that they agree to the amount of ShPL the other parent wishes to take.
3. An employee must give a separate written notice at least eight weeks before the start of any period of ShPL. The notice must state when the leave will start and end, and can request more than one period of leave.
What should employers watch out for?
· Under the new regime if employees have asked for a single continuous period of leave they are entitled to take it. However if separate blocks of leave have been requested the employer can refuse this request. It is advisable to propose new dates and reach an agreement that is suitable for all parties.
· An employee can give up to three notices of their intention to take leave. If a notice is withdrawn because a leave pattern cannot be agreed between employer and employee, it does not count towards this limit.
· During ShPL an employee's normal terms and conditions of employment should be maintained, except those relating to pay. The right to return also remains the same as the current maternity/adoption leave provisions.
· Employees should not suffer any detriment for reasons related to ShPL and any dismissal connected to the ShPL would be considered automatically unfair.
· Finally, employees whose job is at risk of redundancy whilst they are on a period of ShPL should be given preferential treatment over alternative vacancies.
If you would like some guidance on reviewing your current policy to ensure it reflects the changes in the law or want to implement a new policy around shared parental leave please call the Real People helpline on 0207 710 0626 or email us your query at email@example.com