Shared Parental Leave - the Ultimate Work/Life Balance

27 Feb

The government wants to dispel the old preconceptions that the mother will stay at home with the children whilst the father goes to work and is the breadwinner for the family, which for many working mums is likely to be appealing. The idealism behind shared parental leave appears attractive to the modern family, but will it be so attractive to the modern workplace? Employers are likely to find that whilst the regulations offer parents greater flexibility, for the workplace there is an air of uncertainty and upheaval.

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Parental Leave

The government wants to dispel the old preconceptions that the mother will stay at home with the children whilst the father goes to work and is the breadwinner for the family, which for many working mums is likely to be appealing. The idealism behind shared parental leave appears attractive to the modern family, but will it be so attractive to the modern workplace? Employers are likely to find that whilst the regulations offer parents greater flexibility, for the workplace there is an air of uncertainty and upheaval.

At the end of November 2013 the government published its response to the consultation on shared parental leave. The draft Children and Families Bill has passed through the Commons and the Lords and is now awaiting Royal assent.

There are several key changes to be brought into force by 2015.  The main premise of the introduction of shared parental leave will provide new parents with 52 weeks off work to share between them, and to be divided between them in whatever manner fits in with their lifestyle and working commitments. In a family where the mother has a greater earning capacity than the father then the idea of the main earner returning to work earlier whilst the other remains on statutory pay makes financial sense.

The definition of ‘binding notice’ appears to have been in effect reversed; expectant mothers who give binding notice to opt for shared parental leave are to be given up to six weeks following the birth to revoke the notice.  Whilst this understandably takes account of the fact that mothers often feel differently about their maternity leave once the child arrives, and allows a greater flexibility for the new parents, it has the effect that a binding notice is in fact anything but. Employers will most likely feel that this creates a certain level of difficulty for them to plan ahead in terms of covering the work. 

Employees will be required to give a ‘non-binding’ indication of when they think they will take their leave when they initially notify of their intention to take shared parental leave. There will then be a further requirement of 8 weeks formal notice in advance of taking this leave. Bearing in mind the clear uncertainty faced by employers, this is to encourage open discussion so that they are in effect on notice of the employees’ intention to give notice, and allows more forward planning for the business.

In an effort to counter the foreseeable uncertainty, the government will introduce a ‘cap’ on the number of times an employee can notify their employers of an intention to take shared parental leave; an employee will have three notifications, the original and two further changes. If any further changes are mutually beneficial to employer and employee then it can be agreed that they do not count towards the cap. Once the three have been used up the employer will be under no obligation to consider the request.

For women looking at phasing back their return to work there is already in place a system of 10 ‘keeping in touch days’ where the mother can go to work without foregoing her maternity pay. There will be a new provision for each parent to have up to twenty days to support a return to work during shared parental leave. This will be separate from the current 10 KIT days already allocated to mothers, effectively giving fathers twenty return to work style days and mothers up to thirty.

Some good news for employers will be the fact that the notice periods for those wishing to take paternity leave are to be realigned to the same as maternity leave. Fathers will still be entitled to take the two weeks paternity leave following the birth of the child regardless of the intentions of the couple in terms of shared parental leave, but they will now have to notify of their intention to take the paternity leave no later than 15 weeks before the estimated due date of the baby. Employers will therefore have plenty of notice of the Father’s intended paternity leave dates, although bearing in mind that the paternity leave is only for two weeks, it is wondered whether this causes employers much difficulty in the first place?

These changes are going to come in in the near future and it will of course take some time before the real impact, if indeed there will be one, is seen on employers. The future of flexible family friendly working is going to promote a good work life balance for parents, but may not be so beneficial for small and medium sized businesses; only time will tell.


Gemma White

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