Although the right to take shared parental leave and pay is being introduced for parents with children due on or after 5 April 2015, those mothers-to-be will be having their 12-week scans this September 2014, informing their employers of their pregnancy soon after, and prospective fathers have the right to take time off to attend two antenatal appointments from 1 October 2014.
Under the new ‘shared parental leave’ regime, mothers who want to return to work before their maternity leave finishes will be able to gift the remaining leave to the child’s father, or share it with them in chunks.
The new regime will allow parents to share the statutory maternity leave and pay currently only available to mothers. This will replace the existing provisions on additional paternity leave (APL). The new system will also apply to adoptions where the adoption matching or placement date is on or after this date.
The current entitlement to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay will remain the default position. The new shared parental leave regime, therefore, offers an alternative to parents. Under the regime, the mother will still be required to take the first two weeks’ leave following childbirth for health and safety reasons. However, the remaining 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ statutory pay can be shared between the mother and father. The choice of how to share the leave and pay is a matter for agreement between the working parents and their employers.
With regard to leave, under the new regime employees may, provided their employer approves, be able to intersperse periods of shared parental leave among periods of work. Employers should consider what approach they will take to requests for discontinuous periods of leave. They should think about how they will provide cover for the employee’s work in these circumstances and how they will monitor how much leave an employee has taken.
It is also important to note that parents will be able to take leave at the same time under the new shared parental leave regime. Employers should be prepared to deal with the situation where two employees in the same department are expecting a baby together and wish to take shared parental leave simultaneously.
With regard to pay, employers who already offer enhanced maternity pay to female employees on statutory maternity leave will need to decide whether or not they will offer enhanced shared parental leave in a similar way – over and above the statutory entitlement. One factor to be remembered when making this decision is that if enhanced pay is available for employees on maternity leave but not for those on shared parental leave there may be a risk of sex discrimination.
Only around a third of working families are likely to be eligible for this added flexibility, since both mum and dad will need to have worked for their respective employers continuously for 26 weeks at the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.
For some eligible families, where mum is the high earner, it could work well. But parents will have to plan and negotiate their use of the leave carefully, and how many parents will feel safe enough to risk it remains to be seen.