Employees expecting or adopting a baby/child on or after 5th April will be entitled to the new Shared Parental Leave right.

Since 2011, Mums have been able to transfer up to 26 weeks of their maternity leave to fathers, 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.  Despite this, many assume that the uptake for Shared Parental Leave will be different and will create conditions in which men and women can share both work and childcare responsibilities more equitably: due to its flexibility for any qualifying parents.

So long as parents 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 could intersperse periods of work and leave depending on their wishes.

In theory, Mums who want to keep on track with their careers will therefore be able to. They will be able to return to work for an important deadline or event and hand the baby over to Dad for that period. This will hopefully lessen the separation anxiety of leaving their baby in the care of nurseries or other relatives that often comes for Mums when they have to return to work at the end of maternity leave. In many cases, this has a direct impact on their quality of work when they first return.  They will, however, be safe in the knowledge that their ‘alone’ time with their baby is not over completely.

Meanwhile, Dads get the chance to be there to see key milestones, the child 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.

That being said, the requirements which individuals need to meet to qualify for leave, as well as the notification requirements are quite complex. This is something which employers will need to ensure they are also up to speed with in order to be prepared for the first of the requests to come in, and being confident enough to deal with them properly and effectively in order to assist their employees in achieving their aims under the scheme. For example, where parents chose to split the leave in different blocks between them, returning to work, then leaving again for another block of leave, will inevitably have an impact on the businesses which they work for.

So what, as an Employer, can you do to ensure that you are fully prepared for these changes?

Enhancing Statutory Parental Pay

We have already had questions as to whether Employers should be offering any more than the statutory rate (currently £138 per week).

There is of course no duty to increase parental pay and the cost in increasing any pay may be significant. In cases where more parents than anticipated take up the new right, it may be prohibitive. However, some employers have tried to use this to their advantage as a recruitment tool, enticing people into their organisation with increased and attractive paternity pay.

Any increased maternity/parental pay offered by a business should be rolled out through the paid shared parental leave period, ensuring that any enhanced pay is given to qualifying male employees, as well as female.

Shared Parental Leave Policy and Training

The requirements which employees need to meet to qualify for leave and pay are quite complex, as are the notice requirements.  A specific policy providing a framework and guidance in this area would therefore be advisable.  For example, it could set out how requests for leave should be referred to and how requests will be dealt with.  Furthermore, it can set out pay entitlements.

Publishing this Policy to staff will hopefully assist any Employee who is considering applying to take a period of shared leave, and also indicate to Employees that you are abreast of the changes.

In respect of training, due to the nature of shared parental leave and the fact that employees can ask for up to three blocks of leave, it follows that it will need to be managed properly to ensure that there are no problems.  Line managers will need to be heavily involved in the arrangements and management of the same, and so will also need to fully understand the new rights, be aware of the notification procedure and how to handle the same.  There are of course potential claims which could arise if an employee is treated less favourably than others for exercising their leave rights.

Cover Arrangement, resourcing and temporary staff?

As I have said, employees are entitled to ask for up to three blocks of leave. They can do so by giving the appropriate notice each time or by making a request for the blocks up front.  Dependent upon how much take up there is, these blocks of time, spread out over the leave period, could cause serious problems and place pressure upon employers when it comes to cover.

The Employee’s requests will state the periods of leave they would like to take, therefore, there will be sufficient notice for employers to ensure that cover is in place in good time.  Smaller employers may need to bring in temporary staff to cover the leave period(s).  You can speak to the employee in question about how they think their duties and responsibilities can be split or covered during their absence and how they foresee any handover prior to each leave period taking place.  Again, line managers will need to be involved at an early stage to ensure that any provisions which are put into place are workable in practice.

Requests from employees can of course be refused, but employers will need to ensure that such requests and any refusals are treated in a consistent manner and that the reasons and decision-making process behind any refusals are well-documented to avoid giving rise to claims of discriminatory treatment by disappointed employees.

Final Thought…whilst the new rights will give greater flexibility to parents, we are yet to see how great the take-up will be. However, what is evident, is that employees and employers will need to work hand-in-hand to ensure that where there is interest, that it can be facilitated to allow the employee to enjoy the work-life balance they require whilst causing the least possible disruption to the business.

If you need any further advice on shared parental leave, contact Danielle Ayres on 0161 930 5117 or e-mail enquiries@gorvins.com

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