The Government is introducing a new concept of statutory shared parental leave and pay into the existing statutory maternity and paternity leave and pay regime. It is intended to inject more flexibility into how parents choose to structure initial childcare arrangements and to assist in shifting any entrenched view of the mother as the primary carer.
The new right will be introduced on 1 December 2014 and will apply to children expected to be born or adopted on or after 5 April 2015.
Currently eligible mothers are entitled to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave, of which 39 weeks are paid. Eligible fathers can take up to 2 weeks’ paid statutory paternity leave. There is also a right for fathers to take additional statutory paternity leave in certain circumstances but this right will be replaced by the shared parental leave right.
The new shared parental leave scheme will allow mothers and fathers to take up to 50 weeks’ shared parental leave between them, instead of the mother’s statutory maternity leave, in the first year of the child’s life and to be entitled to statutory shared parental pay, rather than statutory maternity pay or allowance, for up to 37 weeks.
An eligible mother will be able to end her maternity leave, pay or allowance early and she and the child’s father will be able to opt for shared parental leave instead of maternity leave and pay. The parents will need to meet certain qualifying requirements. The mother will need to be an employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service and her partner will need to have been employed or self-employed in 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the expected date of birth and to meet certain earning levels. They will need to decide how they divide their total shared parental leave and pay entitlement between them. The leave can be taken by the parents concurrently.
The shared parental leave can be taken in one continuous block or in up to three discontinuous blocks. The employee will have to give their employer at least 8 weeks’ notice before the beginning of a period of leave. Employers have some discretion to refuse or suggest alternatives to an application for discontinuous leave.
The shared parental leave right applies to adoptive parents in the same way as to birth parents.
Pregnant employees are already entitled to paid leave for ante-natal appointments. From 1 October 2014, fathers will also be entitled to unpaid leave to attend up to two ante-natal appointments.
Employers will need to start reviewing their existing maternity, paternity and family leave policies and provisions and to be ready to deal with any requests for shared parental leave that will be made.
The Government is hopeful that the new right will encourage flexibility and reduce gender bias and pay gaps. The soon to be replaced additional paternity leave right had very little take up by fathers and so it remains to be seen how popular and effective the new shared parental leave will be.