New rules for shared parental leave of up to 50 weeks came into force on 6th April 2015. Parents who both work now have the right to take up to almost one year off after having a baby or adopting a child. The changes are described as “complicated and challenging”, particularly for smaller businesses.
The first two weeks following the birth will continue to be compulsory for the mother, and fathers will still be entitled to two weeks paternity leave. The new rules allow the remaining maternity leave (up to 50 weeks) to be transferred to the father or shared between the mother and father.
Whilst it is thought that many businesses are not prepared on how to deal with these new rules, it is also thought that many couples will not be able to take advantage of the offer – either because they simply cannot afford to, or because they do not qualify (both need to be in paid work to be eligible).
Pay for shared leave will depend on whether employers offer an enhanced package. If not, pay will be the statutory minimum – currently 90% of a worker’s average weekly earnings before tax for the first six weeks, followed by £139.58 a week for the next 33 weeks (or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower). In total, 39 of the 52 weeks will be paid, in line with current maternity leave.
Leave can be taken in separate blocks although this is capped at three per employee. Provided employees give correct notice (8 weeks), leave cannot be refused. But discontinuous blocks of leave can be refused. The shared element can be taken jointly or separately enabling parents to either share child care throughout the first year or take the time together if they wish. However it is done, the total amount of leave taken cannot exceed current maternity leave limits.
To start shared parental leave the mother must end her maternity leave. If you’re adopting then you or your partner must end any adoption leave. You can then take:
- the remaining leave as shared parental leave (52 weeks minus any weeks of maternity or adoption leave)
- the remaining eligible pay as statutory shared parental pay (39 weeks minus any weeks of maternity pay, maternity allowance or adoption pay)
Employers should be aware of what their employees entitlement is, to avoid potential discrimination allegations, and employees should ensure they are aware of the correct notice periods, to ensure their leave request is not at risk of rejection.
Despite the apparent complicated system from both employer and employee perspective, the new shared parental leave is a step forward for both men and women.
The Guardian, 04/04/2015, p41. ‘Rules for new parents’ shared leave still worry some small businesses’, Miles Brignall
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