Shared parental leave is the government’s latest idea to allow working families more flexibility, and to encourage fathers to participate more in family life. Instead of the mother taking up to a year’s maternity leave, she may now decide to transfer up to 50 weeks’ leave to her partner, and 37 of those weeks will be paid leave. So employers of both prospective mothers and fathers need to be aware of the changes. 

1. When does shared parental leave come into force?  The legislation comes into effect from today, 1 December 2014. However, it will only apply to parents whose baby is due on or after 5 April 2015. 

2.  How does shared parental leave fit in with other working family rights?   Maternity leave still exists, and the mother will have to explicitly curtail her maternity leave in order to opt for shared parental leave instead.  

Paternity leave (the two weeks off after the birth of the child) still exists, and this is separate to shared parental leave.  

Additional paternity leave will be replaced by shared parental leave. 

Confusingly, parental leave (as opposed to shared parental leave) still exists and is something quite separate; it allows either parent to take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave at any time up to the child’s 18th birthday.  

3.  How will shared parental leave work in practice?   The short answer is…it’s complicated. For full details click here for our detailed note on the subject. 

Your HR team need to be on top of things; the issue of eligibility can be complicated, the new regime provides for various different notices that an employee can give, and there are deadlines for the employer to respond. 

4.  How will shared parental leave affect my business? Government estimates suggest that between 2% and 6% of eligible employees will take up shared parental leave. This figure is likely to vary significantly between different sectors. Public sector employees are expected to be more likely to take shared parental leave, whereas in “old-fashioned” sectors like law and banking it may still be seen by fathers as a career-limiting option. However, it is likely to become more common in the future.  

5. What do I need to do next? You should ensure that your working family policies are up to date.  

Your HR team may need some training on how to manage requests for shared parental leave, because it is not a straightforward exercise.  

You may also need to give some consideration to whether you will pay enhanced shared parental pay. If you currently pay enhanced maternity pay to your female employees, should you offer an equivalent package to fathers taking shared parental leave? You could risk being subject to a claim for sex discrimination if you do not. There have been cases where male employees have brought discrimination claims in similar circumstances, and these claims were not successful. But these cases were specific to their facts, there is no general rule that it is acceptable for an employer to pay different amounts. We would still advise our clients that if they do not offer equal enhancement packages to mothers and to fathers, then they are at risk from a discrimination claim.