New statutory provisions, which will entitle parents to decide how they share their time off following their child’s birth or placement with them, will come in to force on 1 December 2014. The new provisions will apply to children who are due to be born, or are placed with their adoptive parents, on or after 5 April 2015. 

Parents will not be obliged to take SPL once the new scheme comes into force. The default position on the birth of a child will be that the 52 weeks of maternity leave (39 weeks paid) will remain in place, as will the two-week period of compulsory maternity leave, unless the employee chooses (and is entitled to take) SPL. The default position on the adoption of a child will be that the primary adopter will be entitled to 52 weeks of adoption leave (39 weeks paid). Additional paternity leave and pay will be abolished meaning that the only entitlement that the child’s other parent will have (unless they engage with the SPL scheme) will be ordinary paternity leave (and pay).

Under the SPL scheme, parents will now be able to share leave during the first year and can either take it in turns or can both take leave at the same time. This is a significant change to the current regime and gives employees much more flexibility to determine how they wish to provide childcare in the early months of their child’s life. It is also a major change for employers who must ensure they are familiar with the new regime, have updated their policies and trained relevant staff on the new rules.

In order to qualify for SPL the following criteria must be met:

  • the mother or adopter is entitled to statutory maternity or adoption leave or pay;
  • the mother or adopter will share the care of the child with their partner or the child’s father;
  • the parent seeking SPL must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the week the child is due (or the week in which an adopter was notified of having been matched);
  • the other parent must have worked for 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the due date; and
  • the other parent must have earned more than £30/week in 13 of those 66 weeks.

If they qualify, the parent can then decide whether to take the leave in continuous weeks (which the employer must accept) or over a discontinuous period (which the employer is entitled to refuse). The employer must be given 8 weeks’ notice of the leave that they wish to take. The employer is entitled to request a copy of the child’s birth certificate or documents which notify the primary adopter of the date for placement. It is sensible to encourage early discussion about the available options and to determine the employee’s preferences. 

There will also be a new statutory payment for parents on shared parental leave with the same qualifying requirements that currently apply to statutory maternity and paternity pay.