Earlier in February the government has published its Children and Families Bill, which provides for major changes to various family-friendly policies.
The Bill had its first reading on 4 February 2013. The main changes are outlined below.
Shared parental leave and pay
It is proposed that the Bill will amend existing law to create new rights to shared statutory parental leave and pay. Whilst further detail as to how this will work in practice is yet to be published, broadly speaking women will continue to be eligible for maternity leave and pay but will have the choice to end their entitlements early in order to share their remaining leave and pay with their (eligible) partner. During their period of shared leave, the partner will enjoy similar protection as that afforded to women on statutory maternity leave.
The existing provisions relating to additional statutory paternity leave and pay are to be repealed.
To minimise complexity the Bill also makes it clear that, when calculating the amount of leave taken, a part of a week is to be treated as a full week and an employer can require employees to take leave in a single period rather than non-consecutive periods.
Subject to eligibility requirements being met, adopting parents will also be able to benefit from these new shared leave and pay provisions and the Bill also puts in place provisions for enhancing statutory adoption pay to 90% of an adopter’s salary for the first six weeks, bringing it into line with statutory maternity pay.
Time off work for ante-natal appointments
The Bill creates a new right for employees and agency workers who are in qualifying relationships to take unpaid time off work to attend a maximum of two ante-natal appointments with their pregnant partner. Unpaid time off for each ante-natal session will be for a maximum period of 6.5 hours.
Qualifying relationships include the pregnant woman’s husband, civil partner or partner, the father or parent of the pregnant woman’s child, and intended parents in a surrogacy situation if they meet certain specified conditions. Provision is also made for paid and unpaid time off work for adopters to attend meetings in advance of a child being placed with them for adoption.
In order to be entitled to the time off an employer may first require a declaration stating:
- that the employee has a qualifying relationship with a pregnant woman or her expected child;
- that they are taking the time off to attend the ante-natal appointment;
- that the appointment is made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, midwife or nurse; and
- the date and time of the appointment.
Employees and qualifying agency workers may complain to an employment tribunal if they have been unreasonably refused time off by their employer. Their remedy would be compensation amounting to twice their hourly salary for each hour for which they would have been absent.
Flexible working requests
The Bill also extends the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just those who are parents or carers. In addition, the current statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests will be removed and instead, employers will be permitted to use their existing HR procedures, provided they consider requests reasonably, and notify the employee of their decision within three months of the application being made (unless an extension is agreed between the parties).
Guidance on the new flexible working regime will be published by ACAS in due course.
Further information can be found here.