Shared parenting arrives
Parents can take shared parental leave (SPL) where an employee’s baby is due after 4 April 2015. Maternity leave rights are unchanged, but now there is an extra option of ending maternity leave early in exchange for SPL for the other parent.
With SPL, parents have more flexibility in taking parental leave.
A father could previously take additional paternity leave, although fewer than 1% actually did so. They could not take paternity leave until 20 weeks after birth, and then only after the mother’s return to work. With SPL, parents can take leave together or separately, and leave can be stopped and restarted, with a return to work in between – because each parent is now entitled to three separate blocks of leave.
Employers cannot refuse a request for a single period of leave, but they can turn down a request for multiple blocks. For example, an employer has to accept a request for eight weeks, but they can refuse or negotiate about, say, two blocks of four weeks if this request is not acceptable. Each block must be for complete weeks, with eight weeks’ notice required before any SPL starts.
Employed mothers qualify for maternity leave from the first day of their employment, but SPL is only available if certain conditions are met. The parent taking SPL must satisfy a continuity of employment test, and their partner an employment and earnings test. A self-employed spouse cannot take SPL, but could meet the employment and earnings test so that their spouse can. That spouse might prefer the flexibility of SPL to maternity leave.
For SPL to start, the mother must return to work or give notice of when maternity leave will end. However, two weeks of maternity leave immediately following birth is compulsory. Two weeks of ordinary paternity leave are also available. The remaining 50 weeks of maternity leave can be exchanged for SPL. Although there is no need to make any immediate decision, partners must give their employers at least eight weeks notice.
Where a couple take SPL, shared parental pay will generally be received instead of statutory maternity pay. The rates are the same.
Couples who adopt a baby can also qualify for SPL by giving up their entitlement to adoption leave. And from 5 April, adopters are given the same rights as birth parents, with entitlement to adoption leave now being granted from the first day of employment.
SPL is not straightforward for employers to manage, and if you offer enhanced maternity rights, you should consider offering the same for shared paternity. If not, you could end up facing a discrimination claim.
Call to speak to one of our team if you would like any further information.
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