July 30, 2014

Shared Parental Leave – New challenges for employers

Government plans for more flexible working patterns show no sign of slowing down, with its newly published draft regulations for shared parental leave.

The changes were legislated for by way of the Children and Families Act 2014, which has received Royal Assent. The essence of the regulations is that they allow parents more flexibility to choose how they share childcare responsibilities in the first year after a child’s birth. A laudable aim no doubt, in today’s ever changing world.

However, it is employers, not the government, who will ultimately face the challenges posed by these regulations, and there are certainly some potential challenges for employers, should families choose to exercise their rights under the new legislation.

The proposed system would allow both parents to share up to 50 weeks’ shared parental leave, taken separately or at the same time. They would also be entitled to receive Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) in respect of up to 37 weeks of that leave.
Under the provisions, maternity leave may be cut short by the mother after 2 weeks and she could apply to share the remaining amount of  what would have been maternity leave with her partner as shared parental leave. Provided sufficient notice was given, and that both parents individually satisfy the eligibility requirements, parents are entitled to make up to three requests to share leave with their partner. There is no requirement for the period of leave to be continuous, although the employer may object to discontinuous period of leave and/or suggest alternative dates.

It is not difficult to imagine the administrative and organisational difficulties which could be caused the regulations, which have been described by some as ‘unworkable’. The regulations also go on to provide for up to 20 so called SPLIT days (Shared Parental Leave In Touch Days) for each parent. These are similar in nature to ‘KIT’ days for employees on maternity leave.
Add into the mix the proposal that there be a different timeframe for expectant mother who work in ‘factories’, the introduction of a right for adoptive parents to take time of work to be with the child prior to the adoption placement, and the proposal that surrogate parents who meet the criteria to apply for a Parental Order be eligible for statutory adoption pay and leave and shared parental leave, providing they meet the qualifying conditions, and you can see that there is potentially an awful lot to think about. What about 2 parents in the same workplace, for example?!
The regulations are expected to come into force on 1 October 2014 making the system available to parents of babies due or adopted on or after 5 April 2015. Certain rights under the legislation are expected to come into force with the new regulations in October  2014 including protection from unfair dismissal or detriment in relation to the exercise or proposed exercise of rights under the scheme and the right for fathers and partners to take time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments.
There is no doubt that it is difficult to predict exactly how these changes will play out. The legislation itself is complicated, and the are a large number of variables to consider.
What is for sure is that employers will need to ensure that they’ve got appropriate policies in place sooner rather than later. Whilst the majority of the provisions come into force from April 2015, certain rights are effective from October 2014, a matter of months away, and it is likely that employees may be raising queries or even making a request for shared potential leave this year, to take effect next year. Should you require any assistance whatsoever with these incoming changes, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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