In November 2012 the Government announced it intended to introduce a new system of statutory parental rights for employees and workers.
In February 2013 BIS published Modern workplaces: shared parental leave and pay – administrative consultation, a paper which sought views on what the detail of the new scheme should be.
On 29 November 2013 the Government published its response to the consultation. In announcing these changes Nick Clegg has said that he wants to ‘create a fairer society that gives parents the flexibility to choose how they care for their child in the first year.’ The policy is being introduced under the Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through the House or Lords. The Government intends to implement the scheme by 2015.
In summary, shared parental leave (SPL) will allow mothers to return to work and their partners to take the balance of their maternity leave, or the couple could take the leave in turns.
The cut off point for taking SPL will be 52 weeks from the birth of the child, rather than the start of maternity leave.
Both parents will be required to complete a form notifying their employers of their intention to take SPL.
Specific notice requirements are proposed as follows:
- A woman will need to give her employer at least 8 weeks’ notice of her intention to end maternity leave and pay and begin SPL and claim shared parental pay (SPP).
- The woman will be entitled to give the notice before the birth, which will enable her and her partner to begin SPL and claim SPP immediately after the 2 week compulsory maternity leave period.
- Both parents will need to give their employers 8 weeks’ notice to begin SPL and if they want to take several blocks of leave, 8 weeks’ notice must be given in respect of each block of leave.
- Both parents will be required to give a non-binding indication of their expected pattern of leave when they notify their employers of their intention to take SPL.
- A notice to end maternity leave and pay together with a notice to take SPL and SPP will be binding unless:
- one of the parents discovers during their 8 week notice period that they are not eligible for SPL or SPP because they do not satisfy the joint economic activity test; or
- the woman gave notice before the birth and has changed her mind. The woman will be entitled to change her mind up to 6 weeks after the birth.
Each employee will be limited to making up to 3 notifications for leave or changes to periods of leave. It will be open to employers and employees to agree further periods of leave or changes, if this works for both parties.
Each parent taking SPL will be allowed to have up to 20 ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days, in addition to the mother’s 10 KIT day entitlement during maternity leave. It is likely that these additional 20 KIT days will be called something different to KIT days to distinguish them.
Rights to return to work
The right to return to the same job will be maintained for employees returning from SPL no matter how many periods of SPL they have taken, as long as they have taken 26 weeks or less in total. The 26 weeks would include periods of maternity, adoption, paternity and SPL. Once they have exceeded the 26 weeks they would only have the right to return to the same or a similar job.
From an employer’s perspective, in order for the new system to work, early communication between employers and employees will be essential. It seems that the biggest challenge will be for smaller employers, as they may not have the resources to be able to be able to cope with an employee’s request. Nevertheless restricting the number of times that an employee can change their parental leave plans should bring some certainty for employers.