New parents with a baby due, or placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015 will be entitled to take shared parental leave for up to 50 weeks provided they meet the eligibility requirements.

Shared parental leave allows parents to decide how to share the caring responsibilities for their baby during the first year of birth or adoption. Parents will have the right to take the leave in turns, or alternatively, they can take this leave at the same time.

Eligible parents can each take up to three separate blocks of leave (either continuous or discontinuous) during the year but must give 8 weeks notice before each block. An employer cannot refuse to grant a block of continuous leave (provided the parent is eligible and gives the correct period of notice), however it can refuse a request of discontinuous leave. 

Interestingly, a period of continuous leave can be used to the advantage of employees in certain occupations, for example teachers could take make 3 requests for continuous shared parental leave starting on the start date of each term and ending on the last day of each term. They would then return to work during the periods of holiday, allowing them to receive full pay during the holiday periods.

Parents who opt to take shared parental leave will be entitled to receive statutory shared parental pay for up to 37 weeks. This will be £139.58 per week from 5 April 2015 or 90% of the parent’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. It would therefore be sensible for a mother to take 6 weeks of maternity leave (which would result in her receiving 90% of her salary during this period) before opting for shared parental leave which is more likely to be paid at the rate of £139.58 per week. Those who currently receive enhanced maternity or paternity pay should check whether they will receive enhanced shared parental leave pay before opting for shared parental leave.

In addition to the introduction of shared parental leave, from 5 April 2015 onwards the existing parental leave regime (a different set of rules) is being extended so that parents with children between the ages of 5 and 18 will be able to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks.