The final Shared Parental Leave Regulations were published in July, meaning employers can now go ahead and draft their Shared Parental Leave policies. 

Who do the new rules apply to?

Shared parental leave will apply to those who are expecting babies on or after 5 April 2015. The Regulations will come into force on 1 December 2014. Therefore, employers should be gearing up for these changes now as employees will have to comply with certain notification requirements months in advance of the period of leave commencing.   

What is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave will operate alongside the existing maternity leave regime which will continue to apply, but which will be subject to some changes.

Employees will be eligible to "opt in" to a system of shared parental leave if they wish to share periods of leave with their partner.

Shared parental leave will enable parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave. This may be taken in continuous or discontinuous blocks of time (but employers have the right to refuse requests for discontinuous leave in some cases). Whilst this regime will provide great flexibility for employees, the system is anything but simple. Both parents must fulfil a number of complex eligibility and notice requirements.

What steps do I need to take now?

Employers will need to decide from a policy perspective whether they plan to offer enhanced pay for those opting to take shared parental leave.      

The government considers that it will not be discriminatory for employers who offer enhanced pay for periods of maternity leave to decide not to offer this for periods of shared parental leave (provided that both female and male employees taking shared parental leave are treated the same for pay purposes). However, this is likely to be an area that will result in litigation.

In addition to drafting a new Shared Parental Leave Policy, employers should also ensure that their maternity, adoption and paternity policies are revised.