January 30, 2014

Shared parental leave is on the horizon

Parents can soon share the responsibility of raising newborns when a new law comes into force that allows ‘shared parental leave’.

‘Shared Parental Leave’ is a new system which will replace the current schemes for maternity, adoption, paternity and additional paternity leave from April 2015.  The government has recently released more details about how the new scheme will work in practice. It is hoped that more women will be encouraged to return to the workplace following child birth and that fathers will take advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with their children during the first year of their lives.

What arrangements are currently in place?

Currently, those eligible for maternity and adoption leave are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks’ leave after giving birth or after a child is placed with them for adoption.  If the primary carer returns to work early, a proportion of the primary carer’s untaken leave and pay may be transferred to the partner in certain cases. This leave can be converted into ‘additional paternity leave’.

The earliest date that additional paternity leave can begin is 20 weeks after the child is born (or after the child’s placement for adoption) and a maximum of 26 weeks may be transferred.

What will change when the new system is introduced?

The default 52-week entitlement to maternity leave and 39 week statutory maternity pay for eligible women will be retained. Fathers will also retain their current entitlement to two weeks’ ordinary paternity leave and pay.

The new system will allow new mothers to end their maternity leave after 2 weeks (or 4 weeks if working in a factory) and share the remaining 50 (48) weeks as ‘shared parental leave’. Parents must meet qualifying criteria (a minimum level of earnings and length of service) to take advantage of shared parental leave and each parent must meet the qualifying criteria for leave and pay in their own right.

Leave can be taken by either parent, at the same time or in turns. As the leave does not have to be taken in one continuous block, parents will be able to take time off in a much more flexible way than currently.  Shared parental leave will, however, need to be taken before the child’s first birthday.

Employees will be required to give eight weeks’ notice to opt into the system, and the same notice for any requested leave. When first opting into the system, employees will have to tell their employer how they envisage using their leave. It will only be possible to make three requests for shared parental leave, or changes to the leave. After giving birth, mothers will have a six week period to change their mind about bringing their maternity leave to an end early.

Similar options will apply to adoptive parents and rights will be brought into line with maternity leave and pay. Where both adoptive partners meet the qualifying conditions, the primary adopter may convert their adoption leave into shared parental leave.

The right to return to the same job will apply to any employee who returns from a period of leave (maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave) which totals 26 weeks or less. This will be the case even if the leave is taken in discontinuous blocks.

During shared parental leave, both parents will be able to take advantage of 20 ‘keeping in touch’, or KIT days. Work can be carried out on these days without bringing the shared parental leave or pay to an end. These will be in addition to the KIT days available during maternity leave. However, to avoid confusion, the KIT days available during shared parental leave will be re-named.

Where can I obtain further information and support?

Further details about shared parental leave will be set out in regulations. A draft set of the regulations is expected to be published in early 2014.  In the meantime, if you have any queries relating to maternity, paternity or adoption, please telephone our HR Advice Line (on 0845 073 0240) who will be happy to assist.

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