Many of you will have read the announcement by Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg that there is to be a flexible system of parental leave in place by 2015. The announcement was made on the same day as the Government released its response to a consultation on flexible working, which can be found here.
The main focus of the announcement was on the flexible system of leave. It will remain the basic legal position that 52 weeks of maternity leave is allowed. However, the flexible system will mean that new mothers, after the compulsory two weeks of leave after a birth as a recovery period has been taken, can then end the maternity leave and both parents can opt to share the leave on a flexible basis for the remaining 50 weeks. Parents will be able to ‘mix and match’ their leave. The announcement cited examples of the mother taking the first eight months, with the father taking the remaining four months; or the mother returning to work for a period in the middle of the year with the father taking care of the child at that time; or the parents could choose to both stay at home together with the child, for up to 6 months. Employees will need to agree their individual pattern of leave with their employer.
Nick Clegg said that “This is good news not only for parents and parents-to-be, but employers too who will benefit from a much more flexible and motivated workforce.”
The new rights will not apply to all employees as each parent will need to meet relevant qualifying criteria for leave and/or pay. This is likely to be in line with current qualifying criteria for rights such as maternity pay and allowance, although the detail will be set in the legislation.
In addition to the new system of flexible parental leave, it was announced that:
- A new right will be created allowing men to take unpaid leave for attendance at two ante-natal appointments.
- Parents who adopt will also be eligible for the new flexible parental leave on equal terms.
- Intended parents of a child born through surrogacy will be eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay and for flexible parental leave and pay if they meet the qualifying criteria. They will also have a new right for unpaid time off to attend two ante-natal appointments. Our previous article on surrogacy and maternity rights can be found here.
- The current limit of allowed unpaid parental leave of 13 weeks will increase to 18 weeks in March 2013. This is to comply with a European Directive on parental leave. The current age limit of the child for whom a parent (or person with parental responsibility) can take parental leave will increase from 5 years to 18 years in 2015. Therefore, each parent will have the right to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child under 18.
- The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees, not just those with eligible children or caring responsibilities. However, an employee will still be required to have 26 weeks’ service to qualify for the right. It was also announced that the current statutory procedure under which employers consider flexible working requests will be replaced with a duty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a reasonable period of time and guidelines will be issued by Acas on this.
The consultation also said that statutory paternity leave will remain at two weeks for now, but the Government will look to extend this period once the UK economy is stronger.
This is a welcome move for many, although employers may baulk at the administrative burden these changes are likely to entail when they are implemented in law.
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