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Sharing Parental Leave

The regulations on shared parental leave have recently changed. If you have not updated your payroll systems, you could find yourself on the receiving end of legal action. We’ll explain the changes and show you how to remain compliant with the law.


In November 2012, it was announced that a new system of ‘Shared Parental Leave’ (SPL) was to be introduced to permit both partners to take leave at the same time for babies due on or after 5th April 2015. Finalised rules came into force from 1st October 2014.


SPL will allow eligible mothers and their partners to be absent from work to care for a child for up to 52 weeks (with shared parental pay for 39 of those weeks). SPL will allow a couple to take leave either:


  • simultaneously;

  • one after the other;

  • or one partner to take the balance of leave after the expiry of compulsory maternity leave.


SPL will replace the current Additional Paternity Leave (APL) system, where a mother who returns to work early can transfer the remaining period of her leave to her partner.


With SPL, parents who pass the eligibility tests can both take paid time off together or swap leave back and forward during the 52 week period following the birth of their child. As well as this, they have some ability to change their planned schedule of leave during SPL.


The Main Differences between Current Policy and the New System


Current Policy From 2015


Mothers can take a year off for maternity leave. Mothers have to take the first two weeks of maternity leave for the purposes of recovery. Following this period, they can split the remaining 50 weeks of maternity leave between themselves and their partner.


Maternity leave cannot be stopped or started – it must be taken in one continuous block.


Parental leave can be applied for in a discontinuous pattern (e.g. every other month). However, employers have the right to reject such requests or insist that the leave is taken in a continuous block. No more than two changes can be made to an intended parental leave pattern.


If mothers return to work before 26 weeks of leave have been taken, they have the right to the same job. After 26 weeks’ leave, they have the right to return to a ‘similar’ job. Parents returning to work before 26 weeks of leave have been taken, even where those weeks are spread out rather than continuous, have the right to return to the same job. Those returning after 26 weeks of leave, have the right to return to a ‘similar’ job.


Eligible fathers can take two weeks of paid paternity leave. They are also eligible for up to 26 weeks’ unpaid paternity leave. This can begin from 20 weeks after the birth but only if the mother has returned to work. Fathers will be able to share 50 weeks of parental leave with their partners from birth. However, they will still only have the right to two weeks’ paid paternity leave.


Fathers can only take leave once the baby is born. Fathers will have the right to attend up to two antenatal appointments, although this leave will be unpaid.


Fathers must give notice of when they want to take their two weeks’ paternity leave 15 weeks before the anticipated due date.15 weeks’ notice is still required for the two weeks’ paid paternity leave. Eight weeks’ notice is needed for fathers to share up to 50 weeks’ parental leave.


Parents who have children below the age of 5 (or 18 in the case of disabled children), and who have 52 weeks’ service or more with their current employer have an entitlement of 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave per parent, per child. This can be restricted to four weeks a year by employers. Up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave can be taken by all parents of children under 18.


Parents with more than 26 weeks’ continuous service and whose children are under 17 (18 if the child is disabled) as well as carers of adults either within the home or a relative can request flexible working arrangements.


All employees with more than 26 weeks’ continuous service can request flexible working. It does not matter if they have caring responsibilities or not. Employers can still reject the request but they first need to give it reasonable consideration.


Other important points to remember:


  • only employees with 26 weeks’ service will qualify for the right to take shared parental leave;

  • employees will have to give 8 weeks’ notice of their intention to opt-in to shared parental leave and of any further request for leave; a two-week discussion period is built in to the eight-week notice period to discuss the pattern proposed. If this cannot be agreed, the leave has to be taken in a single block, starting when the employee chooses.

  • when a couple first opts into the SPL system, they must give an indication, which is non-binding, of how they want to take their shared parental leave;

  • only three notifications, or changes to, shared parental leave can be made, unless the employer is willing to allow more requests;

  • employers do not have to agree to the leave pattern proposed by employees.

  • each parent will have 20 Keeping in Touch days available to them during SPL, in addition to those that a woman can take during maternity leave;

  • employees will have to give notification of shared parental leave at the end of the 15th week before the anticipated due date (or date of adoption);

  • couples need to take their entitlement to shared parental leave within 52 weeks of the birth or adoption date.


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