The publication of the final Shared Parental Leave Regulations last week serves as a reminder that the new regime officially comes into effect next Monday, 1 December, although it will apply only where the birth of the child is expected or the adoption placement occurs on or after 5 April 2015.

As well as getting to grips with the considerable complexities of the new law, employers will also need to consider whether to make any adjustments to their occupational maternity and paternity schemes to reflect these new rights. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – who is regarded as the driving force behind this change – has already announced that three large employers will be joining the Civil Service in offering enhanced shared parental pay. Even if employers are prepared to make this significant financial commitment, there are many details to address, not least how such new schemes will interact with existing occupational maternity and paternity pay.

Many employers will be reluctant to make any changes until they can assess how shared parental leave will work in practice. Doing nothing is not entirely risk-free, since male employees taking shared parental leave could argue that enhancing statutory maternity pay without doing the same for shared parental pay is indirectly discriminatory against men. However, it is considered that for most employers the risk of such claims succeeding is relatively low.

The introduction of shared parental leave will coincide with a number of other changes to the rights of working parents arriving next April including:

  • Extending the existing right to take unpaid parental leave so that parents of all children up to the age of 18 are eligible
  • Further aligning the rights of adoptive parents with those of birth parents: among other changes, the right to take adoption leave will no longer be subject to 26 weeks’ service and the primary adopter will have the right to paid leave to attend adoption appointments
  • Extending the scope of adoption leave so that local authority foster parents who are prospective adopters can qualify
  • Changing the law so that parents of a child born to a surrogate mother can qualify for paternity, adoption and shared parental leave and shared parental pay if they apply for a parental order under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.