The new legal framework for shared parental leave came into effect on 1 December. In essence the new rules will allow employees to share most of their statutory maternity or adoption leave and statutory pay entitlement with their partner. Parents will be able to take advantage of the new rights where the birth of the child is expected or the adoption placement occurs on or after 5 April 2015. For more information see our earlier briefing and the Government’s more recently published overview of the new regime.

As well as getting to grips with the considerable procedural complexities of the new law, employers will need to consider whether to make any adjustments to their occupational maternity and paternity schemes to reflect these new rights. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – who is regarded as the driving force behind this change – has already announced that three large employers will be joining the Civil Service in offering enhanced shared parental pay. Even if employers are prepared to make this significant financial commitment, there are many details to address, not least how such new schemes will interact with existing occupational maternity and paternity pay.

Many employers will be reluctant to make any changes until they can assess how shared parental leave will work in practice. Doing nothing is not entirely risk-free, since male employees taking shared parental leave could argue that enhancing statutory maternity pay without doing the same for shared parental pay is indirectly discriminatory against men. However, it is considered that for most employers the risk of such claims succeeding is relatively low.

The availability of shared parental leave from April will coincide with the introduction of a number of other changes to the rights of working parents. These include extending the existing right to take unpaid parental leave so that parents of children up to the age of 18 are eligible and aligning the rights of adoptive parents more closely with those of birth parents.