The new Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014 finally came into force earlier this month. Under the Regulations, mothers and adopters expecting a child to be born or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015 can choose to end their 52 weeks’ maternity or adoption leave at any point (after an initial two weeks’ period of compulsory leave) and convert their remaining leave into shared parental leave which can be taken by both the mother or adopter and their partner or the father of the child in alternating or overlapping blocks.
To take shared parental leave the mother or adopter and their partner must satisfy certain eligibility criteria (which broadly mirror current requirements for maternity and additional paternity leave). Shared parental leave attracts statutory shared parental pay on the same terms as statutory maternity pay.
When requesting to take a block of shared parental leave, a qualifying employee must give their employer at least eight weeks’ notice in writing. Employers cannot refuse a request to take a continuous period of leave, but can refuse a request to take a number of separate blocks of leave. However, because up to three notices to take leave are permitted, qualifying employees can circumvent a potential refusal by serving three different notices in respect of three different blocks of leave.
The government claims that the introduction of shared parental leave will encourage parents to share the responsibilities for childcare more evenly. However, some commentators have speculated that cultural expectations and financial concerns may prevent many men from asking for extended leave to care for a new child.
Although employers cannot predict the popularity of shared parental leave, planning ahead for the new system may help to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming disputes. To help employers get up to speed, the government has published a brief employer guide (read more). Employers will also need to update their maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave policies to encompass the forthcoming changes, which include the abolition of additional paternity leave. To learn more, come along to our New Year breakfast seminar, to be held in conjunction with CIPD (read more).