December 19, 2014

Shake-up of shared parental leave takes effect

Under the new rules, parents will be able to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after the initial two weeks, giving greater flexibility to families in childcare arrangements for the first year.

However, the new arrangements will only apply to couples with babies due, or children adopted, on or after April 5th, 2015.

The new system is one of several measures aimed at giving fathers more of a shared role during the early stages of a child’s life, and equal rights within the maternity period.  Earlier this year, fathers received the right to attend antenatal appointments.

Maternity leave remains, as does the two weeks paternity leave granted after the birth of the child – however additional paternity leave will now be replaced by this shared parental leave. So women will need to take a specific decision to curtail their maternity leave and pass the balance over to her partner if couples wish to take advantage of this new arrangements.

The changes are expected to benefit as many as 285,000 working couples initially.

Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said: “The new Shared Parental Leave rules will give real choice to parents.  We all know that every family has its own unique set of circumstances, and Shared Parental Leave reflects that reality.

“Up until now, families have had very limited options when it comes to juggling the demands of work with the arrival of a new baby.  The old maternity leave system reinforced the archaic assumptions that the bulk of childcare responsibilities should be done by mums, and failed to recognise the vitally important role that dads and partners have to play.”

Sir Brendan Barber, chair of ACAS, added:  “Many employers recognise that they can retain talented staff by offering a flexible approach to work and a healthy work life balance can help business success and growth.”

The downside for businesses is that there are a number of quite complicated provisions surrounding eligibility and various periods of notice which need to be given, with deadlines for employers to respond – so it may take some time for companies and employees to get to grips with these. Companies would be well advised to review their HR policies to ensure they are up to date with these changes in advance of the first applications after April next year.

For more information on our Employment Law services, please contact our specialist Employment & HR team.

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