The Government has announced its plans to introduce shared parental leave from 2015. Additional paternity leave will be consigned to the history books.
New laws will come into force in 2015 to introduce ‘flexible parental leave’. The intention behind the leave is to allow parents to share their time off work to enable both to participate in the care of their new baby in the first 12 months of its life. This leave is in addition to the current entitlement to ‘unpaid parental leave’ which will be extended as detailed below.
The legal position
What remains the same?
The default position will remain that employed mothers are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and those eligible to receive statutory maternity pay will still be entitled to receive it for 39 of these 52 weeks. Paternity leave and pay will continue to last for 2 weeks for eligible fathers.
What is flexible parental leave?
Instead of the current position where fathers have to wait until 20 weeks after childbirth to commence their additional paternity leave, parents (if they both meet certain criteria) can now share 50 of the 52 weeks’ leave (as the first 2 weeks are mandatory maternity leave).
For example, they may decide that the mother returns to work 2 weeks after giving birth and the father take the remaining 50 weeks’ leave.
Alternatively, parents can pick and choose specified blocks of parental leave of no less than one full week over that 50 week period. They can take the leave separately or, similar to some Scandinavian countries, they can take time off at the same time. The leave will be paid at the usual statutory rate (or more if the employer offers enhanced payments).
Unpaid parental leave
The current right to unpaid parental leave will remain but will increase from 13 to 18 weeks to comply with European requirements and the child’s age limit for parents to take such leave will increase from 5 to 18 years old. This change will come into force in 2013 and therefore 2 years’ earlier than the other family friendly changes discussed in this article.
Adoption leave and pay will finally be brought in line with maternity leave and pay. Previously adoptees only received 39 weeks of basic statutory adoption pay whereas biological mothers received 6 weeks’ pay at 90 per cent of their salary and 33 weeks’ statutory maternity pay.
Fathers will be entitled to unpaid leave to attend 2 antenatal appointments with their pregnant partner.
For the first time, intended parents of children born through surrogacy arrangements who meet the criteria can apply for an order to be eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay. They will also be entitled to flexible parental leave and pay and fathers will be entitled the new antenatal rights above.
Research shows that the UK lags behind the US economically partly because women are not participating to the same extent in the labour market. Sharing parental leave is aimed at ensuring working mothers can return to work earlier than previously either on a permanent basis or to work on certain projects safe in the knowledge that their children are being cared by their partner.
Will this flexibility prove to be a minefield for employers or will it provide the frank and open discussions regarding return dates and work-load planning that all employers desire?
The Government hope that the changes will “shift the perception that women do all the caring and start to address the resultant career penalties that women face when trying to achieve senior positions in business.” Only time will tell, but the impact of these new rules on the workplace will be substantial.
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