The introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has caused somewhat of a headache for employers, with businesses forced to grapple with another piece of employment legislation. SPL is a highly complex area of law and businesses need to be prepared for the wider implications that the legislation carries which will require particular focus and specific HR and legal advice.

Introduced on the 1st December 2014, this latest piece of the Government’s family friendly legislation will allow parents to take up to 50 weeks of SPL following the birth or adoption of their child. However there are a number of key things employers must be aware of in order to ensure the legislation is implemented effectively, reducing the risk of HR or employment issues arising.

How does it work?

Shared parental leave will not be mandatory. Parents must qualify and opt in to the SPL scheme, informing their employer of their decision to do so along with a notice of entitlement. This must be done at least eight weeks prior to their first intended leave of absence, along with a declaration from the other parent consenting to the proposal. However where an employee is eligible and fulfils the criteria an employer legally is unable to refuse their request.

Where a parent does not opt in or qualify for the scheme they will be entitled to the standard 52 weeks of maternity leave, 39 of which will be paid.

Will my staff automatically qualify for SPL?

Not all staff will qualify for SPL, in order to do so they must first pass an economic activity test. The criteria states that where one parent seeks leave they must have worked in an employed or self-employed capacity for 26 of the 66 weeks prior to the birth or adoption earning an average of £30 per week. The mother must also wave her entitlement to maternity pay or allowance in order to share it with her partner.

Do the rates of pay differ to maternity leave?

SPL is paid at the same rate as statutory maternity pay, or 90 percent of the average weekly earnings, whatever may be lower.

So considering the above, what steps should businesses take to implement the new legislation effectively, minimising the potential for HR and employment law disputes:

1) When introducing SPL ensure that your company policy covers the correct procedures regarding eligibility, process, and returning to work. All staff handbooks should also be reviewed in line with the new legalisation ensuring there are no conflicting procedures that could cause confusion.

2) Consider where SPL will fit in relation to the company’s existing benefits and the financial impact of offering enhanced rates of pay.

3) The law surrounding SPL is highly complex and can be fraught with many potential pitfalls, seeking HR & employment law advice from an expert lawyer is essential in safeguarding the business as well as allowing employers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the new law and practice.

For further information regarding SPL contact Farleys’ specialist HR & Employment law department on 0845 050 1958. Alternatively please complete an online enquiry form and a dedicated solicitor will respond to your enquiry.