Shared parental leave - the basics

Shared parental leave officially came into force before Christmas and, as of April this year, officially becomes an option for families. The new rules are designed to allow couples with babies to share the burden of childcare with the intention of making flexible working a reality and giving women more options to return to work. From 4th April 2015 the leave can be shared between two parents where there is a baby due or children matched or placed for adoption

Who will benefit? The government has estimated that around 285,000 working couples will benefit from the new rules, which give them the opportunity to make childcare more flexible.

Can all of the leave be shared? No, the first two weeks will remain as maternity leave but after that point the leave can be shared between the two parents. This applies to a total of 50 weeks and 37 paid weeks of leave. The new rules mean that parents can take time off at the same time to look after a newborn, which should considerably ease the burden on working parents to fulfill both employment and childcare responsibilities.

Does the leave have to be taken in one go? The new shared parental leave can either be taken in one single block or broken up into different time periods – this is designed to allow parents to return to work if there is a project they are working on that needs completing or if there is a particular reason to be back in the office. After that is concluded the leave can be restarted (with the right notice given).

How are decisions made as to how the leave is taken? The scheduling of the shared parental leave has to be agreed with an employer and parents don’t have the right to demand certain days or time periods. Eight weeks notice must be given to an employer before the parent(s) want the leave to begin.

What if employer’s refuse shared parental leave requests? This isn’t possible. Employees used to be able to request flexible working for situations such as this and, under those circumstances, the request had to be considered but could be refused. This is not the same for shared parental leave, which is effectively a right in the same way as maternity leave is.

How does the payment work? Essentially the rights that women currently have to maternity pay are simply transferred into the flexible working arrangement – so that is 90% of normal salary for the first six weeks and then a statutory £138 each week for the following 33 weeks. A share of this entitlement is paid to the father depending on how much time is taken off.

Does anyone actually keep track of the leave being taken? Yes parents have to make a legally binding declaration which sets out the share of leave that they’re going to take. This is then monitored and checked by the Inland Revenue to make sure there is no fraud.