baby-17369_1280Last May I mentioned that shared parental leave is on its way and now it is almost upon us. Many employers have commented that the arrangements seem to be very complicated so it is timely that both the Government and ACAS have published detailed and helpful guidance.

Shared parental leave is to be introduced from next April in respect of babies due (or due to be adopted) on or after 5 April but notices requesting leave could therefore be served as early as next January. It is therefore important for all employers to understand the scheme now and to make appropriate arrangements to accommodate the new procedures.

Detailed information is available in the ACAS Good Practice Guide. However, in summary, the key features are as follows.

We have new terminology: SPL – Shared Parental Leave, ShPP – Statutory Shared Parental Pay, Continuous Leave –  a period of leave in one block, e.g. four weeks, Discontinuous Leave – a period of leave arranged around when an employee will return to work, e.g. working every other week for three months and SPLIT day – a Shared Parental Leave In Touch Day.

SPL does not arise unless the mother reduces her maternity or adoption leave of 52 weeks. If she does then this opens up the possibility of her and/or her partner opting in to SPL and taking any remaining weeks as SPL. This means that the partner could commence SPL while the mother is still on maternity leave. For example a mother might choose to reduce the maternity leave period by 10 weeks, thereby reducing the overall period to 42 weeks. That means that 10 weeks could be used by the partner as SPL while the mother is still on maternity leave.

In a more extreme example a mother must take at least two weeks as maternity leave following the birth of a child (four weeks for manual work in a factory environment). She might choose to convert all her remaining maternity leave to SPL in which case both she and her partner could take nearly six months each as SPL at the same time. Alternatively the mother might return to work after three months and thereby give the partner nearly nine months’ SPL.

To qualify a mother must have a partner and have curtailed or given notice to reduce her maternity or adoption leave or her pay or allowance (if not eligible for maternity or adoption leave). A parent intending to take SPL must be an employee, share primary responsibility for the child, have properly notified the employer of the entitlement and to have provided the necessary declarations and evidence. In addition he or she must satisfy the continuity of employment test (at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the child’s due/match date) and the employment and earnings test (in the 66 weeks prior to the due/match date worked for at least 26 weeks and earned an average of £30 per week in any 13 weeks.

If both parents qualify for ShPP they must decide who will receive it, or how it will be divided, and they must each inform their employer of their entitlement.

steps to be taken by an employer

  • On discovering that an employee is pregnant or matched for adoption, arrange in informal meeting to discuss SPL
  • Remember that SPL is a legal entitlement. Qualifying employees have the legal right to choose to take SPL, to determine when to take it and not to suffer any detriment for using or seeking to use SPL.
  • An employer has the right to refuse a discontinuous leave request (e.g. because it would cause too much disruption). However, in that case the notice automatically defaults to a single block of continuous leave.
  • A notice of continuous leave cannot be refused and therefore the employer should make arrangements to provide suitable cover for the absent employee.
  • As with requests for flexible working, every stage of the process should be documented and it is good practice (and the safest course of action) for an employer to hold meetings with the employee in the period leading up to SPL so that there can be full and open discussions and with a view to eliminating any misunderstandings.

Subscribers to Employment Solutions will soon be able to access our Shared Parental Leave Policy and associated template documents in the subscription zone.