Proposed extension to maternity leave and paternity leave

Any new father will agree that two weeks paternity leave is just not long enough to fully experience the early months of his child’s life. In acknowledgement of this and upon the realisation that the modern family’s working pattern has changed considerably in the last few decades, in April 2011, a father’s leave entitlement was extended so that he could share up to 26 weeks of a mother’s unutilised maternity leave once the mother returned to work. Currently under these regulations, only the mother can take the first 26 weeks of her 52 weeks, and any weeks she takes thereafter will directly reduce the father’s leave entitlement to Additional Paternity Leave.

In the intervening month between April and May however, the government has decided that the recent changes are not sufficient and has suggested a 21st century re-write of maternity, paternity and parental rights. The government’s new proposals are in the form of the ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation being run until 8 August 2011. The ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation intends to replace the current maternity and paternity provisions and instead redefine leave entitlements into parental leave so that truly flexible shared parenting is possible.

Under the proposal, the mother will be entitled to paid leave for antenatal appointments and the father will be entitled to unpaid leave for two antenatal appointments. Around the time of the baby’s birth the mother will be entitled to 18 weeks paid maternity leave. During this period the father will be entitled to his two weeks paid paternity leave.

All remaining leave after the 18 week maternity period will be reclassified as parental leave. Each parent will be exclusively entitled to 4 weeks paid parental leave, and both parents can take their 4 week allowance and any subsequent parental leave simultaneously. The parents can share the remainder of the parental leave as they see fit, which will total 17 weeks paid parental leave and then 13 weeks unpaid parental leave.

Before parents of newborns get too excited though, whilst being knee deep in used nappies and Mothercare paraphernalia now, your newborn will likely be nearing his or her first day at school before the additional extension will be in place, as any changes to parental rights as a result of the consultation will not be in place before 2015.

Flexible Working

If you feel that your 9am office routine gets in the way of your daily morning surf, you may also be pleased to hear that the government no longer insists on procreation before allowing a better work life balance. The `Modern Workplaces’ consultation is also more than just babies, babies, babies as the consultation has raised the idea that there may be other reasons why an employee would like to work flexibly. The consultation proposes that the right to request flexible working should be available to all workers who have been with their employer for 26 weeks, and not just those who have child care commitments for a child under 17 or have to care for a dependent.

However, before you start worrying about your employees flicking through the yellow pages in search of a daily guitar tutor, it should be noted that just because an employee requests to work flexibly, does not mean that the employee will automatically be given the option to reduce his or her hours or make changes to start and finish times. An employer will still be entitled to reject a request where they can rely on one of the 8 valid business reasons to do so, or where an employer considers that under the individual circumstances a competing request should take priority.

Stay tuned for further updates on the outcome of the Modern Workplaces consultation.