This month marks the beginning of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) for employees whose Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC) is on or after 5 April 2015.
Expectant mothers now reaching that all-important 12 week stage and may be notifying their employers of their pregnancy. This means that employers may start to get questions about the operation of the new scheme.
While employees are not obliged to take up the option of SPL and the current scheme of 52 weeks’ Maternity Leave will remain the default position unless agreed otherwise, recent surveys have indicated that up to half of working mothers would consider using the new scheme (according to workingmums.co.uk).
SPL gives parents who meet the eligibility criteria more flexibility regarding the leave they take upon the birth or adoption of a child. Both parents essentially share a ‘pot’ of leave which can be taken in turns or at the same time. Mothers will still be required to take at least two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave immediately after the birth but the remaining time (a maximum of 50 weeks) can be shared by both parents as desired.
For the first time, weeks of the ‘pot’ of leave can be used simultaneously by both parents. SPL must be taken in complete weeks and can either be taken in a continuous period, which an employer cannot refuse, or in a discontinuous period, which the employer may be able to refuse.
To be eligible to take SPL an employee must have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service at the end of the 15th week before the EWC, must still be employed in the first week that SPL is to be taken and must give sufficient notice of their intentions. To qualify for Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) they must also meet the same average earnings threshold as with Statutory Maternity Pay (currently £111 per week).
In addition to these criteria, the other parent must have worked for 26 weeks in the 66 weeks prior to the EWC and have earned a minimum of £30 in 13 of these 66 weeks.
The new regulations come into force on 1 December 2014, from when employees will have protection from any detriment or dismissal for a reason related to SPL. Employers may also find that employees whose EWC is on or after 5 April 2015 but whose child is born prematurely might qualify for SPL from December 2014 onwards.
The current general rule is that pregnant employees can begin their maternity leave up to 11 weeks before their EWC. This will also be the case with SPL, so for those first employees to whom SPL will apply, they will be able to begin their SPL on or after 18 January 2015.
You can read about the Shared Parental Leave scheme in more detail here.