It is that time of year again! April is always a busy month for employers with changes in the law and even in the midst of a general election campaign, this year is no exception. Following the bank holiday weekend there are a number of key amendments to employment law.  To ease you back into the working week, we have set out below a summary of these changes and employers should ensure their policies and handbooks are updated to reflect them.

Shared Parental Leave

The long awaited and much talked about Shared Parental Leave regime applies to parents of babies due on or after 5 April. Eligible employees are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks’ Shared Parental Leave and 39 weeks’ Statutory Shared Parental Pay.  New mothers are obliged to take the first 2 weeks after the child’s birth off, but can share up to the remaining 50 weeks of leave entitlement with their partner.  Similar rights apply to adoptive parents and to parents of children born through a surrogacy arrangement.

The Department of Business Innovation and Skills has developed an online calculator to help calculate shared parental leave and pay entitlement. The calculator can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/pay-leave-for-parents

Unpaid Parental Leave

An employee who has been continuously employed for a period of not less than 1 year and has, or expects to have, responsibility for a child, is entitled to take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid time off for the purpose of caring for that child.  This right currently only applies to parents of children under the age of 5, unless the child is disabled.  However, from 5 April the right has been extended to parents of children under the age of 18. Employees will be able to take up to 4 weeks’ leave per year per child, until such time as their child reaches 18 or, if earlier, when they have exhausted their full entitlement of 18 weeks per child.

Adoption Leave

From 5 April the rights of adopters have been more closely aligned with those of mothers taking maternity leave. The 26 week qualifying period has been removed and Statutory Adoption Leave is now a ‘day 1’ right. The continuous employment requirements to qualify for Statutory Adoption Pay remain unchanged (26 weeks at the time the employee is notified of being matched with a child for adoption), but the rate of pay has been enhanced to 90% of the employee's normal weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks for the ‘primary adopter’. 

In addition, new rights to time off for adoption appointments have been introduced for both single and joint adopters.  A primary adopter may take paid time off to attend an adoption appointment on up to 5 occasions in relation to a particular adoption. A secondary adopter may take unpaid time off to attend an adoption appointment on up to 2 occasions. The amount of time off is a maximum of 6 and a half hours for each appointment (which includes travel and waiting time). 

Increased rates and limits for 2015/16

From 5 April the weekly rate for Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Statutory Paternity Pay (Ordinary and Additional) will be increased from £138.18 per week to £139.58 per week.  The newly introduced Statutory Shared Parental Pay will also be £139.58 per week.

From 6 April Statutory Sick Pay will increase from £87.55 per week to£88.45 per week.

New limits (set out in the table below) have also been introduced for dismissals where the effective date of termination falls on or after 6 April.For dismissals that have taken effect prior to 6 April, but which come to tribunal after April 2015, the old 2014 rates will apply.

Click here to view table

National Insurance

From 6 April class 1 employer secondary national insurance contributions have been abolished for employees under the age of 21 who earn less than the Upper Earnings Limit (£815 per week or £42,385 per year). The exemption will extend to apprentices under the age of 25 in April 2016. It is important that employers maintain accurate records of employees, including their dates of birth to ensure national insurance is paid correctly.