Shared Parental Leave Means Shared Rights and Responsibilities
Expectant parents and those planning a family have been watching the news with interest this week with the Children and Families Act 2014 introducing a major shake-up of the way parental leave can be shared following the birth or adoption of a child.
The Shared Parental Leave (SPL) system will affect parents of any child with an expected week of childbirth (EWC) beginning on or after 5 April or placed for adoption on or after the same date.
It has been hailed as a revolution in the way that childcare is shared after a child is born or adopted but, in fact, the ability to share parental leave is not new: Additional Parental Leave was introduced in 2011 to enable parents to share the right to time off and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP).
“What’s new is the level of flexibility that the new SPL system brings with it,” says Susan Mayall, head of employment. “It enables parents to divide the full 50-week parental leave and 37-week ShPP entitlement either consecutively or concurrently and to take it in a number of segments if they so choose.
“The one area of leave that remains the same across the SPL and APL systems is the compulsory maternity leave period of two weeks following the birth of a child and the application of an equivalent two weeks of 90% paid leave for the primary adopter when a child is placed for adoption.”
Beyond that, however, parents can choose how they split their shared entitlement to leave and ShPP, which could involve both parents taking time off together, the mother returning to work early or the parents taking turns to take time off, as long as the time taken does not exceed the time jointly available to the couple.
While the new system puts greater choice and flexibility in the hands of parents, the needs of the employer have also been factored into the legislation.
Parents must submit a leave notice at least eight weeks before their proposed first period of leave. While employers will be obliged to accept a request for one continuous period of SPL, they will have two weeks to respond to any leave notices that request discontinuous leave periods and will have the right to refuse the request or propose alternatives.
The mother must also give her employer a ‘curtailment notice’ at least eight weeks before she would like her leave or pay entitlement to end.
To prevent abuse of the new system, the legislation also entitles the employer to request a copy the child’s birth certificate or adoption papers and the contact details of the other parent’s employers.
The level of flexibility contained within the SPL system is a positive step forward for women in the workplace and will enable more men to spend time with their children during their first months. However, the new legislation is complex and employers must ensure that they fully understand their rights as well as their obligations in order to balance a fairer system for parents with the commercial realities of the workplace.
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