The new shared parental leave rules came into effect on 1 December 2014 and apply to babies who are born on or after 5 April 2015. In essence, it gives both parents an opportunity to determine the best type of arrangement to care for their child during its first year.
In order to be eligible for the shared leave both parents must be in paid work. The amount of leave available is calculated using the mother entitlement to maternity leave of the 52 weeks. Whilst the mother has to take a minimum of two weeks compulsory leave following the birth, the remaining 50 can be shared with her partner.
If the mother ends her maternity leave after 15 weeks, then she can share the remaining 37 weeks of the total 52 week entitlement with her partner. The partner could take all of the remaining leave or it can be shared. For example, the mother takes 25 weeks and her partner takes the remaining 12 weeks.
Parents will also have the option of taking all the leave at once or splitting it up in to three separate chunks.
Whilst an employer can’t deny a parent’s request to take all the leave in one block, it is permitted some discretion as to when and how any periods of leave are split up, balancing the needs of the employee and the business.
Will it work?
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has criticised this scheme estimating that that two in five new fathers won’t actually qualify for shared parental leave, mainly because their partner is not in paid work. It believes that the scheme would be open to many more if this criterion was removed. Others have criticised the cumbersome nature of the rules and the various hoops which both the employer and employee must jump through to put the scheme in place.
However, Jo Swinson, Minister for Women and Equalities takes a different view, seeing shared parental leave as an opportunity to bring about a change to the way childcare is perceived in 21st century.
This may indeed, herald a sea change in the way we care for our children. Partners will be able to take a more active role in their child's upbringing, which in turn, allows the mother greater flexibility and choice when it comes to continuing with her career.
However, we need to realise that the various caveats and curtailment notices do pose practical difficulties for businesses in implementation. Nevertheless, it is hoped that employers can adapt to these new rules and strike a fair balance between the needs of the modern day working family and the needs of the business.
By employment law graduate paralegal, Stephen Woodhouse