The UK government has announced a new flexible parental leave regime that will allow parents to share 50 out of 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave and 37 out of 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay from 2015.  Parents may divide the leave between them and take it concurrently or consecutively provided the arrangement has been agreed with their respective employers.  If agreement cannot be reached, employees will be entitled to take their flexible parental leave in a single block commencing on a date of their choice.

This new regime will replace the current regime of statutory maternity and additional paternity leave and pay; mothers retain the right to two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave following birth and fathers retain the two week ordinary paternity leave period.  Fathers will have the right to unpaid time off to attend two antenatal appointments.  The new scheme will be available to adopting parents and those with surrogacy arrangements.

There will be a separate consultation on the administrative details of the new scheme in 2013. (It is also worth keeping an eye on a Spanish case, Montull v Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social (C-5/12), asking the ECJ whether a similar scheme, giving the mother a primary right which can be shared with the father at the mother’s election, is contrary to EU law.) 

The increase in unpaid parental leave from 13 to 18 weeks for each child (required to give effect to EU law) will be implemented from March 2013, and from 2015 each parent will be able to exercise this right for children up to the age of 18.

The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment from 2014. The current statutory framework, which sets out the grounds upon which an employer can refuse a request to work flexibly, will be replaced with a principles-based system where employers will be obliged to consider requests in a reasonable manner, within a reasonable period of time. A statutory code of practice and best practice guidance will be issued to assist employers; an Acas consultation on the code is expected in 2013.  Employees will still be limited to one request in any 12-month period. The Children and Families Bill, which will bring the new regime into force, is expected to be published by April 2013.