Plan ahead for parental leave changes, warns lawyer

Lancashire businesses are being warned not to get caught off guard by new rules coming in next month that will enable parents to share up to a year of leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

Roger Spence, an employment lawyer at Harrison Drury solicitors, believes the law change could cause a HR headache for firms and potentially lead to an increase in employment claims if it is not managed effectively.

Under the ‘shared parental leave’ rules there will be 50 weeks available for shared leave after the initial two week maternity leave, including 37 weeks of shared parental pay. The rules apply to parents of babies whose expected week of child birth is on or after April 5, as well as parents of children placed for adoption on or after that date.

Parents can choose to take leave at the same time or once the other parent has returned to work. They can also split periods of leave up so they take some leave, return to work, and then have a further period of time off.

Roger said: “The new rules offer parents greater flexibility to care for their children, but they will make it harder for businesses to plan how they will cover longer periods of leave for both parents. The rules also throw up a whole host of issues about how employers deal with requests responsibly and to the letter of the law.

“For the first time fathers will be able to take extended periods of paid leave depending on how they have chosen to split shared parental pay with the mother of the child. It is anticipated that this will increase the numbers of new parents who choose to opt-in to the scheme.

“Larger businesses with dedicated HR departments will arguably be more prepared to deal with these changes, but I fear that smaller businesses may be surprised at the implications and potential disruption to their business.”

Employees who take shared parental leave have additional protection from redundancy, the right to return to work when the period of leave ends, and protection from being subjected to detrimental treatment for taking or seeking shared parental leave.

Roger added: “The same rules that protect parents on maternity and paternity leave from the threat of redundancy and discrimination apply to shared parental leave. It is essential businesses seek early advice, so they don’t fall foul of the law.”

At-a glance: The new rules on shared parental leave

What’s changing?

The current provisions for maternity and ordinary paternity leave remain the same but additional paternity leave will no longer be available. Parents who qualify for shared parental leave will have to opt-in to the scheme.

Who can take shared parental leave?

A mother or primary adopter who is entitled to statutory maternity/adoption leave, statutory maternity/adoption pay or maternity allowance can limit their entitlement so that both parents can share the balance.

Do both parents have to be employees?

No, but both parents must be economically active, which means being in an employed or self-employed role in at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth or the week they were notified of the adoption match.

How will it work?

Parents can choose to take leave at the same time or once the other parent has returned to work. They can also split periods of leave up so they take some leave, return to work, and then have a further period of time off.

What will employees have to do?

The parents have to give a set period of written notice and must also give signed declarations to both employers stating the other parent’s name, address and national insurance number along with additional specified information.

What are the obligations for employers?

If an employee requests one continuous period of shared parental leave this must be accepted by their employer. If an employee requests non-continuous periods the employer has two weeks to decide whether to accept the request, propose alternatives or refuse it. Where the employer refuses the periods requested an employee can choose to take their whole entitlement as a continuous period or can withdraw their original notice. Where the original notice is withdrawn in these circumstances an employee can serve up to three notices.