A new scheme is coming in that applies to those in England, Scotland and Wales expecting the birth of a child on or after 5 April 2015. In headline terms, the scheme enables the mother to cut short her maternity leave so that the balance of the leave can be split between herself and her partner (who will usually, but need not necessarily, be the father of the child) as shared parental leave (SPL). The introduction of the scheme means that additional paternity leave (which relatively few fathers took) will cease to exist, though fathers will still be able to take standard paternity leave of one or two weeks around the birth of their child. The new scheme allows the parents greater flexibility as to how they arrange time away from work to care for their newborn child. (As with maternity leave, there is an equivalent SPL scheme for adopters).
Under the SPL scheme, the parents might decide to split the balance of the leave equally between them and either take the time together or one after the other; or they could decide that the mother will still take most of the leave but the father will take a short period alongside the mother. Lots of permutations are possible but where they involve the parents taking discontinuous blocks of leave (so that they return to work for periods between periods of SPL) rather than each taking a single period, they depend on the agreement of their respective employers.
The parents both have to be eligible to take SPL; the mother has to notify her employer that she is cutting short her maternity leave and each parent has to notify their respective employer that they want to take SPL. At the same time, or later, they can then notify their employer of the dates they want to take SPL. If they just wish to take one block of SPL, their employer must allow it. The legislation, however, allows each parent to apply for up to three separate blocks of SPL, though an employer may refuse this. Given that splitting the SPL in this discontinuous way has to work for both parents and (usually) two different employers and given that in some cases there may be issues of providing cover for discontinuous absence, we expect most SPL will be taken in single blocks. Subject to the bureaucracy involved, employers of mothers will on balance gain in that mothers will be away for shorter periods while employers of fathers may potentially lose their service for longer periods than hitherto.
SPL is paid at a flat rate equal to what would have been SMP, for the balance of the 39-week SMP period. During SPL, employment terms and holiday accrual continue as before. The employer continues making pension contributions based on full salary though the employee’s contribution is based on their statutory shared parental pay, unless they agree to make up the difference. Only terms relating to pay cease to apply, as is the case with maternity leave. Up to 20 SPLIT days (similar to KIT days in the existing maternity leave rules) can be taken during SPL.
Not all of the legislation introducing this scheme is in its final form yet. We at EW are currently working on new Shared Parental Leave policies for those of our clients who do not have them in their handbooks and we shall in due course make available to clients all the forms and letters they need to implement the new scheme.
There is Government guidance available here and Acas guidance here. The key message of the Acas guidance is the benefit of full and early discussion with the employee about their plans, the options and what will work.