Under the Parental Leave Directive (‘the Directive’), Member States have until 5 March 2012 to extend the right for parents with children under the age of five to take up to four months’ unpaid parental leave. This will extend the current right to unpaid parental leave in the UK by five weeks, taking it to 18 weeks.
However, the Government plans to take advantage of a one year ‘grace period’ to postpone implementing the Directive due to its ongoing development of its Modern Workplace policy – under which a new system of flexible parental leave will be introduced.
The Directive still comes into force on 5 March 2012; however, we will not see the Directive be implemented in the UK until March 2013.
The Government announced in May 2011 that the extension of unpaid parental leave under the Directive will form part of its Modern Workplace policy. Although the extension to 18 weeks will come into force by March 2013, it is anticipated that other aspects of the Modern Workplace policy will not come into force until 2015.
In practice, it is unlikely that the delay will cause problems for employers as few employees utilise their full unpaid parental leave entitlement (currently 13 weeks).
The Government’s response to the Modern Workplace Consultation, which closed in August 2011, is expected shortly.