From 5th April, individuals expecting to adopt a baby/child will be entitled to a number of new employment rights in relation to adoption pay and leave. These include adoption leave becoming a “day one” right, therefore employees will no longer need to have 26 weeks’ continuous employment to be eligible and also Statutory Adoption Pay being brought into line with maternity pay, with the first weeks of leave being paid at 90% of the employee’s normal earnings.

A real key change, which will be beneficial in adoption cases, is in relation to the right to take paid leave for adoption visits.  At present, adopters do not get any extra time off for adoption visits in the way that pregnant women do for antenatal appointments, however, for individuals who will have a child placed with them on or after 5 April, the main adopter will be able to take paid time off for up to 5 adoption appointments/visits and the second adopter will also be entitled to take unpaid time off for up to two appointments.

The main change, and one that requires some detail given the wide range of benefits it offers, is that eligible employees will be able to opt into the new Shared Parental Leave scheme.

Since 2011, the main adopter has been able to transfer up to 26 weeks of their adoption leave to the second adopter and it was hoped that this leave would give families the opportunity to combine work with caring responsibilities. However, it has been highly publicised that the 2011 changes do not seem to have had much of an impact and the Government have therefore spent some time and consideration looking at this area and how they can assist families with the work/life balance, which so many struggle with.

The Government have therefore come up with ‘Shared Parental Leave’ and many believe that this will be greatly beneficial to adopting couples as it will create conditions in which both parents can share both work and childcare responsibilities more equitably, due to its flexibility for any individuals who qualify.

So long as adopters can get their heads around the complex notification requirements, (which have left even the most well-read employment lawyers confused), if they wish to, they will be able to split up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of shared statutory parental pay.  This will allow them to take time off together with their new baby/child, or split the leave between them, however they see fit.  Periods of leave do not have to be taken in single blocks, parents can intersperse periods of work and leave depending on their wishes.

In theory, if the main adopter wants to keep on track with their career, they will be able to do so, returning to work for an important deadline or event and handing the baby/child’s care over to the second adopter for that period. This will hopefully lessen the separation anxiety that often comes for the main adopter when they have to return to work at the end of adoption leave, when they have no choice but to leave their new child in the care of nurseries, schools or other relatives.  In many cases, this has a direct impact on their quality of work when they first return, however, with Shared Parental Leave they be safe in the knowledge that their ‘alone’ time with their child is not over completely.

Meanwhile, the second adopter will get the chance to be there to see key milestones.  If the child is a baby, to see it smile for the first time, crawl, walk, start talking, (not to mention getting involved in nappy-changing) whilst having an extended eligibility for statutory pay so they can continue to support their family – at least to some degree.  If the child is older, it will allow both parents to share some quality time in those early days of the adoption, which could be vital in creating a good relationship and bond with the child from the outset.

The requirements which individuals need to meet to qualify for leave, as well as the notification requirements are quite complex and therefore parents will need to ensure they are up to speed in order to properly prepare their requests.

All in all, the proposed changes seem positive in respect of adopting parents and ensuring that they both get the opportunity to be as involved in the process before the adoption takes place and the care and responsibility which comes once the child is with them.

For more information on this post please contact Danielle Ayres in our Employment Law Team on 0161 930 5117

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