Have you started to consider how to cope with the “Modern Workplaces” proposals made by the government which may come in force in 2015? These proposals would allow working mothers and fathers to share 34 weeks of “flexible parental leave” following a reduced 18 week maternity leave period for the mother. However, according to a recent Daily Telegraph report, new fathers could get nearly 12 months of parental leave after the birth of the baby. Fathers could then start their leave two weeks after the baby`s birth if the mother decides to return to work. That would be a radical step indeed for everyone, allowing a working mother to return to work almost immediately if she wanted and were able to do so. This would build on the changes that were introduced in April 2011 allowing fathers to take up to 26 weeks “additional paternity leave”, provided the mother has returned to work.
Plans to legislate for the change are expected next year. The Department for Business has apparently declined to comment on the Telegraph report. It said it had consulted on proposals for more flexible parental leave, as agreed in the Coalition Agreement, and would be responding "shortly". The Telegraph said the introduction of the proposal would be delayed until after the next election following a cabinet disagreement, with concerns about how the plans might damage business.
Last month the British Chambers of Commerce said it supported the objective of helping mothers return to work, but has "yet to see proposals on flexible parental leave that are workable".
Maternity Action, which provides advice and information to pregnant women and new parents on maternity rights and benefits, said the change was "long overdue". Adrienne Burgess, joint CEO of the Fatherhood Institute - which has been lobbying for shared parental leave from two weeks onwards - described the move as a "very positive step" and that "The UK has the biggest gap between maternity and paternity leave entitlements in the developed world. This change will give couples real choice about who does what, and make our economy much more competitive as a result."
Amber Rudd, Parliamentary aide to the chancellor, told the meeting it could also improve the recruitment prospects of some women. The Tory MP said: "I used to work in recruitment and there is a kind of assumption that women are a bit of a liability sometimes, to recruit, because they just might go off.
It is also hoped that flexible parental leave could, in the long term, make a significant impact in reducing the gender pay gap, with maternity leave being a major factor.
The existing system of leave and pay is that employed mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave: 39 weeks of this leave may be paid, and 13 weeks are unpaid. Employed mothers who qualify for statutory maternity pay (SMP) receive 90 per cent of their average earnings for the first six weeks (there is no upper limit), and then the “flat rate” for the remaining 33 weeks of paid leave. Self-employed mothers and employed mothers who do not qualify for SMP may receive maternity allowance (MA) at the flat rate for the entire 39-week pay period.
The “flat rate” for statutory maternity pay (SMP), maternity allowance (MA), ordinary statutory paternity pay (OSPP), additional statutory paternity pay (ASPP), and statutory adoption pay (SAP) is either capped at £135.45 or 90% of an employee’s normal weekly earnings if their earnings are less than the flat rate.
Employed fathers who qualify are entitled to up to two weeks statutory paternity leave. Fathers are paid ordinary statutory paternity pay (OSPP) at the flat rate for the two weeks of leave.
Subject to qualifying criteria, parents of babies due on or after 3 April 2011 are eligible for additional paternity leave (APL). Once their baby is 20 weeks old, and providing that the mother has returned to work, fathers may take up to 26 weeks of additional paternity leave. Fathers are entitled to additional statutory paternity pay (ASPP) at the flat rate if they are on leave during the mother’s unclaimed paid weeks.
Employers are responsible for making these statutory payments. Small employers can claim back 103 per cent (in 2011/12) of payments made from HM Revenue & Customs. Other employers can claim back 92 per cent. Maternity Allowance is paid by Jobcentre Plus .
In addition to these special leave rights in the first year of a child’s life, parents who have been with their employer for at least a year are currently entitled to 13 weeks of unpaid parental leave per parent per child. This can be taken from the time the child is born up until the child’s fifth birthday. In the case of a child with a disability the period of leave is 18 weeks per parent, and it may be taken up until the child’s 18th birthday.
A revised European Parental Leave Directive was agreed in March 2010, and will need to be implemented in the UK. This increased the minimum period of parental leave over the early years of a child’s life from three to four months per parent. The government therefore plans to bring the entitlement for all parents into line with the existing allowance of 18 weeks for parents of disabled children, and incorporate this within the proposed new scheme.