The Work and Families (Northern Ireland) Act 2015 ("WFA") will come into full legal effect in Northern Ireland in early April 2015, having received Royal Assent earlier this month.

The purpose of the WFA is to provide a legislative framework in Northern Ireland which enables leave and pay entitlements for working parents in Northern Ireland to match those available to working parents in Great Britain following the introduction of similar legislation in GB in December 2014.

In summary, the WFA

  • sets out a legislative framework allowing for the voluntary sharing of leave and pay entitlement between eligible parents following the birth or adoption of a child (shared parental leave and pay). It also abolishes the right to additional paternity leave and pay, which the new system replaces and builds upon and makes consequential adjustments to other rights for working parents to ensure that they appropriately interface with the WFA provisions;  
  • allows foster parents who are a child’s intended adoptive parents to access adoption pay and leave, and intended parents in surrogacy arrangements to avail of paternity and adoption leave and pay;  
  • provides for statutory adoption pay to be paid at 90% of earnings for the first six weeks. It also facilitates paid time off work for primary adopters to attend up to five introductory meetings before a child is placed with them for adoption; and unpaid time off for secondary adopters to attend two such meetings. A similar right to take unpaid time off work is provided for the partners of new mothers to attend ante-natal appointments; and  
  • facilitates extension of the current right to request flexible working to all employees having an appropriate length of service with their employer.

Draft guidance has been published by the Department of Employment and Learning.