In November 2012, the Government issued its response to the Modern Workplaces consultation, outlining its plans to introduce a new system of shared parental leave and pay. The Government has since consulted on how the new system would be administered in practice, and it has now issued a response to this consultation.
From 2015 (date yet to be confirmed), the existing maternity leave scheme will remain in place, with the shared parental leave scheme available to those eligible couples who wish to ‘opt-in’, provided the mother has not taken her full entitlement to maternity leave. The new scheme will enable eligible mothers and their partners to take up to 52 weeks of leave in total, to be shared between them. As under the existing maternity leave entitlement, up to 39 weeks of the shared parental leave will be paid. The new scheme will also be available to adopting parents.
The couple may elect to take a period of leave together, following which either the mother or her partner may return to work with one remaining at home to care for the child. At a later date, the parents may choose to swap places, with the other taking a further period of leave.
The Government is proposing to adopt the following scheme for the administration of the scheme:
- Under the new system, the mother must give notice of her intention to end maternity leave, and both her and her partner will be required to give their respective employer notice of their eligibility and intention to take shared parental leave, together with a ‘non-binding indication’ of their proposed pattern of leave;
- Notification must include the names and national insurance numbers of both parents, and the total period of maternity leave and pay taken by the mother;
- In addition, the employee is required to give a minimum of eight weeks’ notice of their intention to take each separate period of parental leave;
- Once the employee has given the required notice, there will be a two week ‘discussion period’ for the employer and employee to agree the leave request. If the employer does not agree to the proposed pattern of leave, the employee will be required to take the leave in one continuous block;
- If notice of ending maternity leave (in order to take a period of shared parental leave) is given by the mother prior to birth, she will have a period of six weeks after the birth during which time she can revoke the notice to end maternity leave, should she change her mind;
- Employees will be permitted a maximum of three notifications to either take a period of parental leave on specific dates or to change dates already agreed. This is intended to give employers greater certainty over leave requests;
- Any period of shared parental leave must be taken in the period of 52 weeks from birth, in blocks of at least one week;
- Up to 20 keeping in touch (KIT) days will be available per parent to use whilst on shared parental leave. The existing provision for up to 10 KIT days will remain for women on maternity leave;
- The right to return to work to the same job will be maintained for any employee who has taken a period of up to 26 weeks’ (in aggregate) maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave.
The new right to shared parental leave and pay is included in the Children and Families Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament. The Government has indicated that it intends to publish separate draft Regulations before the Bill receives Royal Assent.
It is the Government’s intention that this new system of shared parental leave will give parents more choice and flexibility in how they share the care of their child following birth or adoption. It wants to encourage more fathers and partners to play a greater caring role, and to enable both parents to retain a strong link with the labour market.
However, the proposals have attracted criticism from employers’ groups, being described as “unwieldy” and over-burdensome by the Institute of Directors. Certainly the process for requesting and agreeing periods of parental leave is not very clear and appears likely to cause some considerable practical difficulties for employers. Once the draft Regulations are issued, we will have a better idea of how this process is intended to work in practice.
A copy of the consultation response is available here.