Following the introduction of shared parental leave (SPL) in April 2015, the Government now intends to extend childcare options further to include grandparental leave.

The idea is that both parents and grandparents will share an entitlement to paid leave from work to care for their child/grandchild. The main anticipated benefits are twofold: a boost to the economy if more grandparents are able to stay in work (2 million are currently estimated to be leaving work or reducing their hours for this reason); and to provide more flexibility to working families to structure their childcare in a way that best suits them.

The details of the scheme have not yet been worked out. With a possible four grandparents per child eligible to benefit from this scheme, it is not clear whether this will mean that a single ‘pot’ of leave must be available for sharing between six people (two parents and four grandparents) or possibly more (if you also include partners who are not biologically related to the child). Of course, the more people entitled to take leave from the ‘pot’, the more complex the already complicated issue becomes for their employers. Another potential difficulty is how the scheme will deal with entitlement to leave where a grandparent has more than one, or indeed several, grandchildren under the age of one.

Grandparents would be paid at the same rate as statutory maternity and paternity pay.  Employers should note that the consultation period for grandparental leave is set for early 2016, and no changes are planned until 2018.

Whilst the proposals will not be implemented immediately, employers should use this as an opportunity to monitor the effect of the SPL policy they currently have in place, and to think in advance about how it could be adapted to cater for grandparents as well if any changes are made. Some commentators have suggested that grandparental leave might result in fewer fathers taking leave, as they feel pressured to pass the burden of childcare onto their own parents, and in particular on to grandmothers.  Employers should be alert to this possibility, as it gives rise to a new area for potential sex discrimination claims.