New rules on how parents get to share leave for the care of their children have come into force this week.
The rules mean that couples who are adopting or expecting a baby on or after the 5th April can fully share time off during the first year following birth or adoption. Up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay is available for parents as shared parental leave.
The government believes that more than 285,000 working couples will be eligible to share leave from April 2015. The aim is to kick start a culture change in workplaces where fathers feel happier taking leave to care for their children.
Heather Grant, employment lawyer at Maxwell Hodge said: “Shared parental leave is a huge change to employment law and how workplaces will operate. The rules mean that couples who are adopting or expecting a baby can not only share up to 50 weeks of leave, but they can start and stop that leave, returning to work between leave periods, without forfeiting their entitlement.
“This is an additional option for parents and adopters as the current systems of maternity, paternity, adoption and unpaid parental leave will still remain in force. Mothers will still have to take their two week compulsory maternity leave and fathers still have two weeks’ statutory paternity leave that they can take immediately following the birth or adoption, but then the balance of the maternity leave period, 50 weeks, can be curtailed and swapped over to shared parental leave to be split flexibly between mother and father.
“A key difference between maternity and paternity leave and the new shared parental leave is that shared parental leave can be taken in blocks. In other words one parent doesn’t have to take the full 50 weeks off in one go, rather they can take a few weeks off and then return to work before taking a further period of shared parental leave late in that first year following birth or adoption.
“There are limits on an employer’s ability to refuse an application for shared parental leave and the rules as to eligibility depend on which parent is applying for the leave. Employers therefore need to consider each request on its merits and familiarise themselves with the options for responding to requests and when they can and can’t turn down applications. There are also provisions for employees to change their mind about how they want to share the leave and whether they want to take shared parental leave (as opposed to maternity leave) in the first place.
“All in all there is a lot for employers to get to grips with and businesses would be wise to look at the matter sooner rather than later in order to ensure that they are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities in advance of employee requests. Any employer who is unsure about changes in employment law should always make sure they seek the appropriate professional advice.”