Significant changes in relation to the way that employees take leave following the birth of their child will be effective for babies expected or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015.

Employees who are eligible for maternity leave can still take 52 weeks' of maternity leave.  That system will remain in place and some may decide to take maternity leave.  However in other cases, eligible parents may decide to utilise the flexibility to take shared parental leave.

Shared Parental Leave will allow eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks' of leave and 37 weeks of pay within the first year of their child's life or within the first year after a child is placed for adoption.  The first two weeks of leave after the birth of the child must be taken by the mother alone, thereafter leave can be shared in a very flexible way. 

The Government has stated that the aim of these changes is to give parents more freedom to decide how they care for their child in the first year of its life.  It is hoped that this will increase the amount of time that fathers spend caring for their child in the early stages.  The idea is that both parents can retain a strong link to the labour market. It is thought that this will allow employees more flexibility to balance work and child care. 

The new system of Shared Parental Leave is a fairly simple concept: but the detailed notifications processes do take some getting used to.   Helpful guidance has been published by ACAS and BIS, designed to help employers understand new entitlements and to help with the complicated notification process.

Whether or not this leads to a permanent change to modern parenting remains to be seen.

All employers need to be aware of these changes. They should also ensure that they have an up to date policy in place to reflect the new legal entitlement.  A clearly drafted Shared Parental Leave policy will help employers to avoid breaching this new entitlement.