Shared Parental Leave

Introduction Of Shared Parental Leave

The introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is the most significant change to the structure of family leave in recent years.  Whilst the concept of SPL is relatively straightforward, the reality of the regime is complicated.  We have tried to simplify the tricky regime as much as possible in our Q&As below.

What is Shared Parental Leave?

The introduction of the shared parental leave scheme is a result of the current government’s pledge to support both parents in being as involved as possible in the care of their child following its birth or adoption.

The aim of the new law is to give parents greater flexibility about how they organise care for their child in the first year of its life or after its adoption.  In simple terms, the shared parental leave scheme allows parents to split and share the amount of time they each have off work to care for their new child, if they want to – it’s entirely optional.

The law applies to any eligible employee who becomes a new parent or adopts a child after 1st April 2015.  For the sake of simplicity, in this article we’ll look at the new scheme from the perspective of parents of a birth child, but the rules are broadly the same when a child is adopted.

Who Can Take Shared Parental Leave?

SPL can be taken by two people who share the main responsibility for caring for the child: this is obviously the mother and either the father of the child or the mother’s spouse, civil partner or partner of the child’s mother.

However, both the mother and the other partner must both meet certain eligibility criteria to take shared parental leave.

What are the Eligibility Criteria for Shared Parental Leave?

For the mother to be eligible, she must be entitled to statutory maternity leave (or pay) and have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the baby is due.  In addition, her partner must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the child’s due date and have earned an average of at least £30 a week in any 13 of those weeks.

How Can Shared Parental Leave be Taken?

The way in which SPL can be taken is extremely flexible.  Importantly, the mother will still be required to take the first 2 weeks of the 52 week-period as compulsory maternity leave.  However, after that, the mother will be able to end her maternity leave, or commit to doing so at a future date, and share the untaken balance of the maternity leave and pay with her partner as SPL.  All of the SPL must be taken within 52 weeks of the birth of the child and therefore, under the new system, employees will have the right to share up to a maximum of 50 weeks’ leave with their partner.

Parents can take SPL at the same time together or take alternate periods while one parent returns to work and the other is on leave.

An employee can take SPL in a single continuous block.  Employees have the right to ask for up to three continuous blocks of leave, as long as the block of leave is for at least one week.

Alternatively, an employee can ask for SPL to be taken in smaller blocks of leave, interspersed with time at work, which is called discontinuous leave.

How Does an Employee Ask for Shared Parental Leave?

If employees want to take SPL, they must give their employer written notice at least eight weeks before they want the leave to begin.  They have to confirm the dates that the leave will begin and end.  The written notice must be accompanied by a declaration signed by the employee stating, amongst other things, that the employee meets, or will meet, the eligibility conditions and is entitled to take shared parental leave.  A declaration signed by the employee’s partner must also be submitted.

The request can either be for a continuous block of leave, for example, 10 weeks in a row or for a period of discontinuous leave, for example, where the employee asks for a set number of weeks of leave over a period of time, with breaks between the leave where the employee returns to work.

Can Shared Parental Leave be Refused?

An employer cannot refuse a request for a continuous period of leave.

However, if they receive a request for a period of discontinuous leave, the employer can refuse this request or propose different dates.  If a request for discontinuous leave is refused and alternative dates cannot be agreed, the employee can withdraw the request (and it will not count as one of their three request entitlements) or they can take the total amount of leave requested as one period of continuous leave.

Can Parents Work during Shared Parental Leave?

Employees are entitled to work for their employer or attend training for up to 20 days during shared parental leave without bringing their shared parental leave to an end.  Such days are called “Shared Parental Leave In Touch” or “SPLIT” days.  They can only be worked if both the employee and the employer agree.

What are an Employee’s Rights during Shared Parental Leave and On Return?

Employees are entitled to the benefit of their normal terms and conditions of employment, except for terms relating to salary, throughout the period of shared parental leave.  Entitlement to annual leave continues to accrue during shared parental leave.

Rights of employees on returning to work will depend on the amount of shared parental leave they have taken together with any other statutory leave.  If an employee’s aggregate total statutory maternity/paternity/adoption leave and shared parental leave amounts to 26 weeks or less, the employee is entitled to return to the same job they held before commencing the last period of leave.  If the aggregate total amounts to 26 weeks or more, the employee is entitled to return to the same job they held before commencing the last period of leave or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to another job which is both suitable and appropriate and on terms and conditions that are no less favourable.

Shared Parental Pay

Shared Parental Pay is payable for 37 weeks, at the same flat rate as statutory maternity and paternity pay.  Whilst the Government has expressed a hope that employers will enhance pay for Shared Parental Pay in line with what employers pay for maternity pay, there is no currently no legal requirement for employers to do so.

What Do Employers Need to Do?

The introduction of SPL is going to result in all Maternity, Paternity and Adoption policies having to be overhauled.  We have prepared a template policy and training workshop, which is free of charge to all our ENHANCE clients and is available for a reasonable charge to all other employers.

N.B THE CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE ARE INTENDED FOR GUIDANCE FOR READERS.  IT CAN BE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR CONSIDERED ADVICE ON SPECIFIC PROBLEMS.  CONSEQUENTLY, WE CANNOT ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS INFORMATION, ERRORS, OR MATTERS AFFECTED BY SUBSEQUENT LEGISLATION.

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