New statutory provisions relating to Shared Parental Leave came into force on 1 December 2014 and apply to parents of babies due on or after 5 April 2015 and children placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015.
Shared Parental Leave enables mothers and fathers to have the option of sharing a period of leave after having a baby or adopting a child which can be taken at the same time or different times. For instance, a mother may have 5 months maternity leave and then opt into Shared Parental Leave – enabling her partner to have additional months as Shared Parental Leave. Shared Parental Leave can be taken in one continuous period or split periods and is subject to conditions and qualifying criteria.
The aim is that Shared Parental Leave will enable parents to take advantage of additional flexibility in the way they choose to care for a new arrival to their family. It steers away from assuming that mothers are always the ones that will take a break from their career to care for a new born baby and instead allows parents to make their own decisions as to which parent will take leave and for what period following a birth or adoption, depending on their particular circumstances.
Employers need to consider the following:
• Carrying out a review of their existing staff handbook, particularly those policies dealing with maternity and paternity leave to check that they are up to date and comply with current legislation
• Implementing a new policy within the staff handbook. This should specifically deal with who is eligible to request Shared Parental Leave, how an employee can opt into Shared Parental Leave, how to book any Shared Parental Leave dates, a procedure for requesting split periods of Shared Parental Leave, details concerning shared parental pay, keeping in touch and returning to work. It may be appropriate to have separate policies with one to deal with births and one to deal with adoption.
• Ensuring that line managers and senior members of staff are aware that employees may make Shared Parental Leave requests going forward and how to deal with these. Employers might want to consider arranging for some members of staff to attend training session.
• Consider what existing benefits there may be in place e.g. contractual maternity pay and whether this should extend to providing contractual Shared Parental pay to avoid any discrimination arguments.
• Employers should be mindful of the fact that it will be unlawful to treat an employee unfairly as a result of them exercising the right to take Shared Parental Leave
At the present time, it is unknown what level of uptake there will be to opt into Shared Parental Leave. It is likely that the regime will make it more difficult for employers going forward as there are likely to be difficulties in arranging cover during an employee’s absence, particularly where an employee has split periods of leave.
In addition, it is worth remembering that all employees (subject to certain criteria) are able to make flexible working requests. In the event that more fathers choose to take time off during the first year of their child’s birth, it may be the case that more men choose to make flexible working requests due to childcare commitments. It is for this reason that it is advisable for employers to have clear policies in place within a staff handbook dealing with flexible working requests and shared parental leave, clearly setting out the periods of notice that will be required to opt into a Shared Parental Leave arrangement. This will help to ensure that the business is able to continue to operate without causing significant disruption.