As we hope you are already aware from our previous articles, the new right to take shared parental leave applies for employees who are expecting a baby or adopting on or after 5 April 2015. The regulations to deal with how the new right will work in practice were published at the end of November and came into force from 1 December 2014.
While some people are sceptical about how much take up there will be, it is important that all employers ensure they are aware of the new rules and ensure their policies are up to date.
In particular, the fact that the new rules potentially allow employees to take shared parental leave in chunks rather than one continuous period has caused concern for some employers due to the potential difficulty in arranging cover.
Shared parental leave can be made up of up to 50 weeks of leave, up to 37 of which can be paid, and the leave can be shared between eligible parents. One of the biggest differences from the current maternity and adoption leave system is that shared parental leave can be taken either as a continuous period or in periods of a week or multiples of complete weeks.
As long as the notification and eligibility requirements are met (which are dealt with in our previous article here), and there is still some leave left to take, parents can choose to opt into the shared parental leave regime at any time – in a maternity situation the mother would need to serve notice on her employer that she is ending her maternity leave. The employee is required to give their employer notice of intention to take shared parental leave at least 8 weeks before the leave is due to start. Up to three requests can be made and each notice can be for a single period of leave or for multiple shorter periods (such as 4 weeks’ leave followed by 4 weeks back at work, followed by another 6 weeks’ leave).
If multiple periods are requested, the employer has the right to decline the request or propose an alternative. If the request is declined the employee has to be allowed to take leave for a continuous period instead.
The problem with this is that the regulations allow up to 3 separate requests, each for a single period of leave, which the employer is not able to refuse. So although a request for multiple periods may be refused, an employee might achieve the same result by putting in 3 requests for single periods. This could mean that employers are left with as little as 8 weeks’ notice to arrange cover, which will cause concern for employers and which was one of the reasons why employers had been given the right to decline multiple shorter periods of leave.
The new regulations also deal with points such as terms and conditions during shared parental leave, the right to return, etc. There is provision for up to 20 keeping in touch (KIT) days per employee, which will work in the same way as those for maternity leave – these are completely optional for both parties, but have been found to be popular with employees and employers.
As we covered in our article in October, one of the questions many people are asking is whether shared parental leave has to be paid at the same rate as maternity leave. You can read our article on this topic here.
There is a lot for employers to get to grips with in terms of the new shared parental leave rules. We are planning to run workshops on the topic early in the New Year so please do watch this space for further information. If in the meantime you have any queries then please do not hesitate to get in touch.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).