Ahead of the recent announcement that new statutory rules will come into force in April 2015 allowing parents to share their maternity and paternity leave, Julian Cox, Partner and Employment lawyer at Fletcher Day breaks down what working mothers and fathers-to-be, and their employers, can expect.
The government’s plans to let parents share leave for a year after a child is born is intended to challenge old-fashioned gender based assumptions that the mother is the one that ought to stay at home following the birth of a child to look after it.
But there is no doubt that the new rules will present a potential headache for employers.
What do the new rules say?
- Under existing law, working mothers are able to transfer some of their maternity leave over to fathers but only at the point that the child is 20 weeks old. Under the new rules, working parents will be allowed to take a total of 52 weeks off work after having a baby or adopting.
- A six-week window is built into the new rules, during which a working mother who has already notified her employer that she plans to share her maternity leave with the father may change her mind and decide to remain on maternity leave using up her entitlement herself.
- Working fathers will still be entitled to their paternity leave entitlement of two weeks unpaid leave immediately after the child’s birth.
- Pay will be at the statutory level, unless their employer is more generous and offers enhanced maternity pay.
- The new rules preserve the concept of ‘keeping in touch’ days. There will still be up to 10 days when a woman on maternity leave can go to work without bringing her entitlement to statutory leave and pay to an end. There will also be 20 additional days for each parent on shared parental leave.
What do the new rules mean for employers?
- Employees will have to give an indication to their employer of when they expect to take their allocated leave at the same time they tell them that they are intending on taking shared parental leave. It should be noted that this indication is not legally binding.
- Employees also have to give notice by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (or, if they are adopting, within seven days of a child being matched), as is currently the case.
- Within the 52-week leave period, employees sharing leave will be required to provide their employer with at least eight weeks’ notice of the start date of their leave.
- Employees will be restricted to taking three separate sets of leave during the 52 week leave period, unless otherwise agreed with their employer. Also they may make only up to three changes to the dates they plan to do so, unless otherwise agreed.
- Whilst employers will not be able to refuse leave requests per se, they can refuse discontinuous blocks of leave, requiring their employee to take the leave as a single block.
- Under the new rules, parents will have the right to take 26 weeks off and return to their existing role, even if the leave is not taken in one block, which means a parent taking leave may take off two separate blocks of 13 weeks leave whilst still retaining the right to return to the same job.