With parental leave available from April next year, employers may soon be receiving enquiries. We offer a brief overview of the key changes and look at the main issues that need to be addressed.

The new regime in outline

  • The new system of shared parental leave and pay will apply for parents of babies expected from 5 April 2015 onwards, and for parents of children placed for adoption from that date. The system is complex and it is likely that there will be teething problems while everyone gets to grips with the new rules.
  • Ordinary and additional maternity leave will stay in place, but the mother will be entitled to curtail her leave and any associated statutory maternity pay and put the balance of her entitlement into a shared pot which can then be distributed between both parents as shared parental leave and pay.
  • Mothers who do not have partners who qualify will still be able to opt into shared parental leave to give them more flexibility around the dates they take their leave.
  • As well as the 10 optional keeping in touch days currently attached to maternity leave (“KIT” days) a further 20 days will be attached to the period of shared parental leave (“SPLIT” days).
  • Additional paternity leave and pay will be abolished. Fathers and partners of mothers will continue to be entitled to take two weeks’ ordinary paternity leave and pay, which cannot be added into the shared parental leave pot.
  • Similar changes will apply to adoptive parents.
  • From 1 October 2014, mothers’ partners will have a new right to take unpaid time off to attend up to two ante-natal appointments with the mother.
  •  From 5 April 2015 primary adopters will have a new right to paid time off to attend adoption appointments. Their partners will have the right to take unpaid time off to go with them.

How long?

Shared parental leave will be available for a maximum of 50 weeks. It cannot start sooner than two weeks after  birth (four weeks if the mother works in a factory). Leave can be shared between qualifying parents in any way they wish, but must be taken in whole weeks. The employer does not have to agree to discontinuous periods of leave, but each employee will be entitled to take up to three separate blocks of leave.

How much statutory pay?

Mothers entitled to statutory maternity pay will be able curtail their entitlement, allowing both working parents to take the balance as statutory shared parental pay. Overall entitlement to statutory pay will remain the same per pregnancy (ie, a total of 39 weeks) except that statutory shared pay will only be available at the lower, flat rate.

Who will be eligible?

Shared parental leave will generally be available if both parents are employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service prior to the end of 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and remain in employment until the start of the first period of leave. It will also be available in certain other circumstances.

How will the new rights be triggered?

Two steps need to be taken. First the mother needs to curtail her maternity leave and, if appropriate, her entitlement to statutory maternity pay. Then both parents need to notify their respective employees of how they intend to divide the resulting period of shared parental leave. In both cases supporting information is required.

What are the notice requirements?

Both parents will need to serve a notice of entitlement and intention to take shared leave on their respective employers at least eight weeks before the planned start of shared parental leave. This notice will include a non- binding indication of how they intend to share out their entitlement to shared leave.

Broadly speaking each parent will then need to give their employer at least eight weeks’ notice of the actual dates they will be taking shared parental leave. The notice provisions are complex, and employees will need guidance about how to satisfy them.

What is the likely take-up?

Because it is a completely new right, take-up is difficult to predict. However some conclusions can be drawn from the experience of additional paternity leave. According to Government figures, only 2,150 employees claimed additional statutory paternity pay in the first year of its introduction. That is not a large figure given that live births are currently running at round 700,000 a year.

What about adoptive parents?

Broadly speaking, new rights for adoptive parents will mirror the rights of natural parents to shared parental leave and pay.

Questions to think about

Have your managers been trained about the new requirements?

  • Are your policies and procedures up to date?
  • Will you wish to make any changes to enhanced maternity or paternity pay?
  • If contractual changes will be required, have you built in sufficient time to consult about these?
  • What is your position about discontinuous periods of leave?
  • Are the administrative arrangements to pay statutory shared parental pay in hand?
  • What use do you intend to make of the extra keeping in touch days attached to shared parental leave?