January 10th, 2015

Shared Parental Leave – What you need to know

We’re delighted to have leading HR Expert Simon Jones of Ariadne Associates join us for a guest blog this week on an important change in employment law. Simon can be contacted here if you need help on this or any other HR issues

You may have seen or heard the news reports that Shared Parental Leave has come into force. It applies to babies born after 5 April 2015 but we’re now at the earliest point that mothers-to-be of babies due after that date could start their maternity leave.

Sadly, having abolished a lot of the bureaucracy around flexible working, the new rules reintroduce a formal process. So even though Employment Minister Jo Swinson tweeted me to say that the new rules are “same as mat[ernity] leave just shared between two”, ACAS have produced a 42 page guide to the new regulations.

Here’s a quick guide to how the new rules should work. Please note that the same procedure applies when a couple adopt and that I’ve used “father” to mean “person who isn’t the mother who has legal parental responsibility for the child”

  1. All employed women who are pregnant are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave and, if they qualify, 39 weeks Maternity Pay. That’s no change to the current position.
  2. Women must tell you, at least 15 weeks before the baby is due, the date they wish to start their maternity leave
  3. If a woman does not want to use her full 52 weeks, she must give you 8 weeks’ notice of wanting to return earlier.
  4. Since 2010, if a mother didn’t use her full 52 weeks she could “give the balance” to the father to use (with pay at maternity levels if the mother would have qualified for it) – he needed to give you 8 weeks’ notice of wishing to take this. This is what is changing (slightly)
  5. From 1 December 2014, qualifying parents (those who’ve worked for you for more than 26 weeks, 15 weeks before the baby is due) can share parental leave. (So if someone asked you today they would have had to have started work with you before 9 July 2014)
  6. They can, if they wish, do the same as in point 4. The mother can return early and the father take over the balance (still with the same 8 week notice period). This is known as “continuous” Shared Parental Leave. As an employer you can’t refuse this (just as you can’t now)
  7. However, they can now if they wish, apply to take Shared Parental Leave in blocks. As an example, the mother takes 20 weeks maternity leave then returns to work – the father then takes the next 6 weeks – the mother then takes a period of 12 weeks and then the father takes the final 14 weeks.
  8. As above, they must give you 8 weeks’ notice of taking leave and returning (so in the example above the father would have to confirm 2 weeks before starting their leave that they were coming back).
  9. This is called “discontinuous” leave and a parent can request to take up to 3 periods of discontinuous leave). An employer can refuse a discontinuous leave request.
  10. Discontinuous leave, if agreed to, must be taken in blocks of at least one week.

As with all these things the key to it is having a sensible discussion with the employee as far in advance as possible, so that you can plan out the most effective way of managing the situation. You can if you wish have a blanket policy of refusing discontinuous leave, but there may be certain situations where it might help your business to agree to it. And as with the “old” flexible working rules, a lot of businesses may ignore the formal processes so long as there’s clear written understanding of what’s been agreed. It’s also likely Shared Parental Leave requests will be few in number initially – but if you get one you need to treat it seriously.

Remember, you can keep up to date with lots of HR and employment issues by following the blog section of www.ariadne-associates.co.uk – where you’ll find discussions of issues such as “Should SMEs use personality tests in recruitment?” and “How to manage a flexible working request”.

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Alison obtained a First class degree in Accountancy and Management at UCLAN University. She then went on to qualify as a certified accountant in 2006 and became a founder member in 2011.

Alison trained at a practice in Liverpool and, within her 10 years there, she developed as an accounts manager and obtained a varied portfolio of clients which has provided her with a range of experience in accounts, audit, VAT and taxation.
Alison specialises in giving sound jargon-free advice to a range of small and medium sized businesses.

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