Parents will gain greater flexibility in how they share the care of their child in the first year after birth as new regulations regarding Shared Parental Leave (SPL) come into force today (1 December 2014).
The new rules, which apply to couples with babies due or children matched or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015, will allow parents to choose whether they want to share the mother’s maternity leave.
There are expected to be as many as 285,000 working couples that will be eligible to share leave from April 2015. The changes in how maternity leave can be used will kick start a culture change in workplaces where fathers feel more confident in taking time off for childcare.
Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said:
“The new Shared Parental Leave rules will give real choice to parents. We all know that every family has its own unique set of circumstances, and Shared Parental Leave reflects that reality.
“Up until now, families have had very limited options when it comes to juggling the demands of work with the arrival of a new baby. The old maternity leave system reinforced the archaic assumptions that the bulk of childcare responsibilities should be done by mums, and failed to recognise the vitally important role that dads and partners have to play.
“Mothers and adopters will be able to choose when they return to work and fathers and partners will be able to spend more time bonding with their children during the precious early stages of their development.”
Under the new rules, mums will still take at least 2 weeks of maternity leave immediately after birth, but after that working couples have the opportunity to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay.
The increased flexibility that Shared Parental Leave will create will be good for families, good for business and good for the economy. Businesses already recognise that employees are more productive and motivated when given the opportunity to work flexibly, and Shared Parental Leave will help employers to retain committed and knowledgeable staff.
Shared Parental Leave is just one strand of a wider programme of measures that the government has introduced to create a modern work environment and provide greater opportunities for parents and families – including the right to request flexible working and increased access to childcare and school meals.
Acas have also helpfully reminded employers that and employees to familiarise themselves with new shared parental leave rights that come into force today. What’s more, they have produced a free detailed guide on SPL to help prepare employers and employees for the new changes. It includes a step by step guide on how eligible employees can notify their employer on their intention to take leave and advice for employers on how to deal with SPL requests fairly.
Acas Head of Guidance, Stewart Gee, said:
“Our new shared parental leave guide is designed to help employers and employees understand how the new changes will affect them and how to manage leave requests fairly.
“We advise employers and employees to start having early discussions to ensure that they can agree the sort of arrangements which work best for business and working families. We are also running training courses to help employers prepare for the legal changes.”
Under the new system, a pregnant woman will continue to have access to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of pay as she does currently but from 5 April, working families will have the opportunity to share this leave between them.
A key feature of shared parental leave is that it can be taken in several blocks. Eligible parents will be able to make use of a mixture of weeks of work and leave in the first year of their child’s life, returning to work between periods of leave if they wish. A parent with a partner who adopts a child will have the same rights, as will intended parents in surrogacy.
Acas’ full guidance Shared Parental Leave: A good practice guide for employers and employees is available at: http://www.acas.org.uk/SPL
Stefan Martin, Employment partner at international law firm Mayer Brown:
“Whether or not it will herald a revolution in the way that parents share childcare responsibilities remains to be seen. Much will depend on whether employers decide to pay enhanced shared parental pay. The experience in Germany is that it was only after rights to paid leave came in that take up of the right jumped, with take up increasing from 3% in 2006 to 20% in 2010 after rights to paid leave were introduced. Although the government is encouraging employers to offer enhanced pay, there is no obligation to do so and our own survey indicates that most employers have yet to make their mind up on this issue. Given the increased cost and higher administrative burden that would arise form a widespread take up of any enhanced rights, many employers may wait and see what their peers do before deciding whether or not to offer enhanced pay.”
Read our analysis on this topic:
- Hannah Ford: Shared Parental Leave – throwing the baby out with the bath water?
- Kim Wager (BIS): Shared parental leave and pay