Basics of Shared Parental Leave

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The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014 will come into force on 1st December, 2014 and will apply in respect of babies due on or after 5th April, 2015.

Shared parental leave replaces the right for fathers to take additional paternity leave but exists alongside the right to take one or two weeks’ paternity leave. To qualify for shared parental leave, both parents have to have a minimum of 26 weeks’ service with their current employer and earn at least the minimum threshold required to qualify for maternity allowance.

So, what exactly is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave offers the parents of a child whether they are the birth parents or adoptive parents the opportunity to decide how they would like to divide a total of 52 weeks of leave between the two of them. There is a compulsory two-week period which must be taken by the mother immediately following the birth of her baby but apart from that the parents can split up the leave as they wish. For example, they could both take the first six months off consecutively or the mother could take say six weeks and the father the remaining 46 weeks.

Provided the employer agrees, it is also possible for an employee to take separate blocks of leave. For example, the mother could take four weeks’ leave and return to work whilst the father takes four weeks’ leave and then the mother goes on leave again and so on. However, employers are not obliged to consider these requests and do not have to justify reasons for refusing a request. There is more than likely going to be two separate employers which might be complicated if one agrees and the other doesn’t.

Both parents can benefit from statutory shared parental pay for up to 39 weeks in total, less the number of weeks of statutory maternity pay used by the mother. Only the mother can take the first six weeks’ leave at 90% of her average weekly earnings. Shared parental pay will be paid at the lower rate of Statutory Maternity Pay.

The Regulations are extremely complicated and employers are right to be concerned about the complexity. However, the onus will be on the employees to ensure that they apply for shared parental leave in the right way and at the correct time.

Encourage your employees to decide what pattern of shared parental leave they would like to take early on in the pregnancy so that if one employer refuses their request for separate blocks of leave, there will be sufficient time for the employee to apply again for continuous leave which does not require the employer’s agreement.

Clear procedures and good communication between employer and employee are going to be essential.

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