The Government has published its response to consultation on the administration of the new shared parental leave and pay rights included in the Children and Families Bill. From 2015 parents will be able to share 50 out of 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave and 37 out of 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay. Our March 2013 briefing summarised the key points of the new regime; the Government’s response now clarifies the following points:
- Parents will be required to opt into the SPL system by giving notice to do so 8 weeks before taking any leave. Normally a notice to end maternity leave and opt into SPL will be binding (unless the parents discover they are not eligible), but mothers who choose to give notice before the child’s birth will be given a grace period to revoke the notice. The Government has confirmed the grace period will be 6 weeks after birth.
- Employees must give 8 weeks’ notice to request a period of SPL; at the start of this will be a two-week discussion period between employee and employer to discuss the leave pattern.
- One of the key concerns for employers will be the uncertainty as to how much leave will be taken and when. The response clarifies that employees will be required to provide a non-binding indication of their expected pattern of leave when they first notify their intention to take SPL. Employers will then have to accept up to three notifications of intention to take leave, either of separate tranches of leave or to change dates already set. This is good news for employers, given that no cap was envisaged originally. Any changes mutually agreed are not included within the cap so employers can choose to be more flexible. On the downside, this seems to confirm that it will not be possible to insist on employees taking SPL in one block, something which was unclear from previous government announcements; if the parties do not reach agreement on the leave pattern for the first request, employers can insist on the leave requested in that notice being taken as one block, but (assuming the first request related only to part of the employee’s entitlement) the employee will then have two further occasions on which he/she can give notice of taking the remainder of his/her entitlement.
- Employees will need to provide the same information as currently required for additional paternity leave (names and national insurance numbers of both parents, and details of the maternity leave/allowance and pay taken).
- SPL must be taken by the end of 52 weeks after the birth.
- Each parent will be able to use 20 Keeping in Touch (KIT)-style days during SPL (to be given another name to avoid confusion); this will be in addition to a mother’s 10 KIT day entitlement during maternity leave.
- The notice required to take ordinary paternity leave and pay will be aligned at the 15th week before the EWC.
- An employee would have the right to return to the same job no matter how many periods of SPL or other leave they have taken and whether or not continuous, as long as they have taken 26 or fewer weeks’ leave (including maternity, adoption, paternity and SPL) in total. Once they have exceeded 26 weeks’ leave, they would only have the right to return to the same or a similar job.