Shared parental leave is a new type of family leave available to parents of babies due, or children placed for adoption, from 5 April 2015. Up to 50 weeks' of leave and 37 weeks' of statutory pay will be available and for the first time, eligible parents will be able to choose which parent takes leave, when the leave is taken, and even to take leave at the same time if they choose to do so.

Mothers will still be entitled to up to 52 weeks' leave, and 39 weeks' pay. However, after the compulsory two-week period of leave from work immediately after the birth, she can choose to end her maternity leave and pay and (if both parents qualify) enter into an equivalent period of shared parental leave and pay with her partner.

Who is eligible to take shared parental leave?

Only employees with a minimum of 26 weeks' service with their employer at the 15th week before the week the baby is due or adoption placement are entitled to take shared parental leave, and the employee's partner, if not employed, must satisfy the employment and earnings test, which requires them to have worked for at least 22 weeks in the preceding 66 weeks, and to have earned at least £30 in 13 of those weeks. Each parent must personally meet the requirements for shared parental leave even if the co-parent is not entitled to take shared parental leave.

How can shared parental leave be taken?

Shared parental leave can be taken in one block or several discontinuous blocks. Unlike maternity leave, employees can return to work between blocks of shared parental leave. Employees can give up to three notices of an intention to take shared parental leave and each notice can specify one or more blocks of leave.  An employer cannot refuse a request for a single block of leave in one notice, but discontinuous patterns of leave are subject to agreement.

The end of additional paternity leave?

Parents of babies due before 5 April 2015 (regardless of when they are actually born) are not entitled to shared parental leave. Additional paternity leave (which allows a mother to transfer some of her maternity leave to her partner if she returns to work early) will no longer apply to new births or adoptions. This means that some employees may still be taking additional paternity leave until April 2016.  The separate entitlement to two weeks' statutory paternity leave on birth or adoption will remain.