The much-publicised new right to shared parental leave, introduced on 1 December 2014 enables eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to determine how they share their time off work after their child is born or adopted. This will apply in relation to babies who are due to be born or adopted on or after 5 April 2015.
Whilst it is a step in the right direction for family friendly rights, the new Shared Parental Leave (SPL) system could potentially cause an administrative headache for employers, particularly smaller businesses, which make up a significant proportion of the Food and Drink industry. The scheme will mean that more workers than ever before will be entitled to take extended periods of leave in relation to childbirth or adoption. Getting to grips with the new legislation is essential, if employers are going to ensure that they administer the system effectively, and with the least possible disruption to their businesses.
Up to 50 weeks of leave (and up to 37 weeks of ‘shared parental pay’) will be available for eligible parents to take or share. This excludes the compulsory maternity leave period − a block of two weeks’ leave, immediately after childbirth, which the mother must take by law.
A mother or adopter will be able to end their maternity or adoption leave early and share the untaken leave with the other parent as SPL. SPL can be taken either consecutively or concurrently, as long as the total time taken does not exceed what is jointly available to the couple.
How should employers be preparing?
Although we have still yet to have sight of the final SPL Regulations, the drafts have looked lengthy and technical in terms of eligibility criteria, notice requirements and return to work arrangements. Once the final Regulations are in place, employers would be well advised to review their policies on parental leave and pay. It will be crucial for employers to have clear and consistent policies in order that their employees easily understand the processes they need to go through to take parental leave, and to limit the risk of disputes.
If businesses offer enhanced maternity pay, it will also be worth considering whether enhanced pay for SPL should be offered. Whilst companies are not legally obliged to offer enhanced SPL pay schemes, it is a possibility that not offering enhanced pay to partners as well as mothers could carry a risk of discrimination claims.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has produced ‘The Employers’ Technical Guide to Shared Parental Leave and Pay‘. Whilst it is a fairly hefty document, at over 50 pages long, it is well worth a read. Broken down into manageable chunks, with a Frequently Asked Questions section, it is likely to become an invaluable tool for employers when finding their way around the legislation.
Proactivity is key
A survey carried out in August 2014 found that just one in seven respondents said they were either ‘well’ or ‘very well’ prepared for the introduction of SLP. However, with complex legislation at hand, employers will need to be proactive, rather than reactive. Get a handle on shared parental leave, and it will pay dividends in the future.