What is Shared Parental Leave?
Shared Parental Leave is available to parents of children born or placed for adoption from 5th April this year. The purpose of Shared Parental Leave is to enable eligible parents to choose how to share the care of their child during the first year after birth or adoption. Whilst uptake is expected to be limited initially, there are certain circumstances in which couples will be significantly better off if Shared Parental Leave is taken by the father.
How does Shared Parental Leave work?
A mother can either keep her current entitlement to maternity leave or opt-in to the Shared Parental Leave scheme whereby she will be able to share up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay with the child’s father. The leave can be taken by the parents separately or concurrently and it is possible for the father to take the entirety of the 50 weeks’ Shared Parental Leave.
Shared Parental Leave and Pay is only available to employees and once an employee notifies you of their intention to take Shared Parental Leave, you are permitted to request evidence as to their partner’s eligibility.
Do you have to accept a Shared Parental Leave request?
Employers are obliged to accept up to three requests from an eligible employee for a continuous block of leave. This means an employee could be absent for, say three separate blocks of eight weeks each, returning to work in between each block. However, you do not have to accept requests for discontinuous periods of leave (eg a period of two months where the employee works alternate weeks). Eligible employees only have to give eight weeks’ notice to request a period of leave, which could potentially cause short-term staffing problems in the hospitality industry where shift-working is prevalent.
What do you need to do?
The Shared Parental Leave process is complicated and there are a number of steps which employees and employers must take in relation to a request. Because the new regime is stacked in favour of the employee, you should ensure you have a sound understanding of the new regime in advance of any requests and take specialist advice where appropriate.
- Having a written policy in place setting out your stance on Shared Parental Leave, how employees can make requests and the circumstances in which requests will be accepted.
- A policy of never accepting requests for discontinuous periods of leave to discourage employees from making such requests.
- Your budget for the cost of Shared Parental Leave.
- How you will cover short-term staffing needs when employees are absent from work for up to three blocks in any 12-month period.
If you pay enhanced maternity pay, should you pay enhanced shared parental pay?
This has not yet been tested in Employment Tribunal but there is a significant risk that if you pay enhanced maternity pay over and above the statutory amount to women, it would amount to sex discrimination if you did not offer the same enhanced Shared Parental Pay to men.
We have simplified matters by referring to mother and father but ‘partners’ of the mother can also be eligible for Shared Parental Leave and Pay.