The government have introduced new rights for parents called shared parental leave. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
Where before the mother could take up to one year’s leave and the father could take a couple of weeks as paternity leave, parents can now share the leave as bests suits them. This applies to any child born on or after 5th April 2015 and also applies to adoptions from the same date and can be taken by same gender partnerships.
Automatically, a mother is entitled to maternity leave but if the mother chooses to opt into the shared parental leave scheme (SPL) they can do so by reducing the maternity leave.
This allows both parents to share the entitlement of leave in order to best support the child in the early period.
Parents will remain entitled to take maternity, paternity and adoption leave. However, an eligible mother or adopter may now choose to reduce their maternity/adoption leave early and opt in to SPL.
All new mothers must take two weeks maternity leave (or four weeks if they work in a factory) but then may share with their partner the remaining 50 weeks as long as it is all taken in the child's first year.
Not everyone qualifies for SPL; it depends on how long the parents have been employees and they will only qualify for payment if their earnings meet a minimum level. But if they do, parents can apply for blocks of leave or take it in one lump, divided to suit both the parents and the firm they work for.
So if a parent wishes to take SPL, they have to apply in writing to their employer at least eight weeks ahead of the time they want to start the leave. But when applying, the employee has to remember that they are not automatically entitled to take the leave in blocks if it doesn’t suit the employer. If an employer says that they have any important events or days planned or it is a busy period, they have the right to refuse the block.
But the employer doesn’t have the right to refuse the leave if a single block is requested.
Once and employer has received a request, it is likely that they will have to liaise with the other parent’s employer to ensure the leave is coordinated and that the other parent is entitled to the leave. This is an additional burden to the employer but failing to do so may lead to problems further down the line. And once a request for SPL has been made, the employer only has 14 days in which to reply.
Finally, an employee can’t keep changing their mind about when they want to take the leave. Nor can a mother then decide to go back to maternity leave. Changes can be made but an employee is limited to three requests.
Shared parental leave has been introduced because the government realise that it is not always better for the mother to take all the entitled leave. There may be occasions when it is the partner who wants or needs to take the bulk of the parental leave, particularly if the mother is the main breadwinner in the family. It also allows employees to take an extended period where both parents care for the new born child relieving the pressure on the mother if they choose to take the leave that way. But there is nothing to prevent the parents taking the leave in staggered periods, say for instance the mother taking the first four months, the father the next four and the mother taking a second period of leave of four months as the child reaches its first birthday.
But, like a lot of changes to employment law, it does increase the workload on the employer to deal with any requests. It also means that the company should have clear policies in place that explain the rights of parents.
And getting it wrong could be expensive!
Ricco Rixon is an employment consultant with RR Employment Law and can be contacted on 07743 336 404.