The Government is consulting until 17 May 2013 on how the shared parental leave scheme to be introduced in 2015 (see here) should be administered – click here for the consultation paper. The power to introduce the scheme is contained in the Children and Families Bill but most of the detail is left to regulations yet to be drafted. The Government intends to publish its response in “late summer”.

Key points (subject to consultation) include:

  • To qualify, parents will both need to satisfy an economic activity test (working at least 26 out of the 66 weeks prior to the due date and receiving a minimum average pay), as well as individually qualifying for shared parental leave (a service requirement of 26 weeks’ continuous employment with the same employer at the 15th week before the EWC and continued service with the same employer when leave is taken) and for parental pay (a salary threshold).  There will be a system of self-certification of eligibility much like the current additional paternity leave system.
  • Women will have to give at least 8 weeks’ notice of converting their maternity leave to shared parental leave and will be bound by this unless they discover they do not in fact pass the joint economic activity test or, if they have given notice prior to childbirth, if they change their mind within a short window post childbirth (the Government is suggesting 4 or 6 weeks).
  • Employers will only be entitled to receive 8 weeks’ notice of parents’ requests to take shared leave, to be followed by 2 weeks’ discussion of the pattern leave should take.  If no agreement is reached, the default position will be that the leave requested must be taken in one block.  As the consultation suggests that several requests can be made, each for part only of the employee’s total entitlement, this suggests that employers may not be able to insist on the whole entitlement being taken in one block, contrary to the Government’s previous stance.
  • The initial notices will set out how the parents have agreed to split the shared leave between them. The consultation envisages allowing employees to change this division, as well as the pattern of their leave, as they see fit, subject to the 8 week notice requirement.  Employers will need to anticipate how they can resource cover at such short notice.

The fact that both mothers and fathers will be eligible for shared parental leave seems to leave open the possibility of employers enhancing maternity leave benefits but not extending these to shared parental leave.  This contrasts with the position for the current additional paternity leave entitlement (which will be abolished), where arguably fathers should receive the same benefits as mothers on additional maternity leave.