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With Shared Parental Leave changes coming into effect on 5 April 2015, Helena Woodward-Vukcevic, Solicitor at Hart Brown, outlines what employers, and employees, need to know.

Changes to policies
Ensure that there is a clear policy in place for employees to follow and explain how the system is going to work. Shared Parental leave (“SPL”) begins on 5 April 2015 but the law came into force on 1 December 2014. Employees can start making requests now so line managers and HR will need to know how to deal with such requests.Parents_238703008

Decisions about pay
Employers should consider at an early stage whether they intend to offer enhanced pay during periods of Shared Parental Leave (“SPL”) for all employees irrespective of whether they are the mother or the father/partner.

The effect of SPL is to recognise equal rights to spend time with and care for the child. There is a suggestion that where benefits are granted unequally there is a risk of unlawful discrimination unless it can be justified. Employers should therefore manage the risk of discrimination claims whilst not increasing the overall cost of SPL.

One option is to retain enhanced contractual maternity pay and pay SPL at the statutory rate. However, this could be a disincentive for any mother receiving enhanced maternity pay if they would not receive the enhancement during the period of SPL.

Maternity leave policies
Maternity policies will need to be reviewed and updated. Maternity rights including protection from detriment and dismissal are to be retained. The policy should clearly set out the new procedures and entitlements. Mothers must take 2 weeks compulsory maternity leave at 90% pay. If requested evidence of birth and period of leave notice must be provided.

Mothers must curtail their entitlement to maternity leave (i.e. by giving a start and end date) in order to benefit from SPL. This is done by providing a notice of entitlement and intention to take shared parental leave.

Paternity leave policies
The father will retain the option of taking 2 weeks ordinary paternity leave paid at the prescribed rate. Additional paternity leave will be abolished. A father wishing to take parental leave must serve a notice of intention including details about the EWC and maternity leave and pay. A Period of Leave Notice should be served 8 weeks before the start date giving the start and end dates of SPL.

Training
Consider whether any additional training is required internally. Who will deal with SPL and the complex regulations and eligibility requirements? They will need to be familiar with what is changing and what is staying the same. The new shared parental leave system allows for periods of discontinuous leave as opposed to a single period of continuous leave that we have seen previously. It is very unlikely in practice that mother simply takes 6 months off followed by father/partner taking the following 6 months.

Employers will need to be prepared to deal with any queries they receive from their employees, for example;

  • Does the request in the booking notice have to be agreed?
  • Can mother change her mind and revoke her notice curtailing her maternity leave?
  • Can mother be on maternity leave whilst father is on Shared Parental Leave?
  • If I employ the father, can I ask for any proof of the birth?
  • Can the Notice of Intention to take SPL be varied?

If you have any more questions about shared parental leave, please visit: www.hartbrown.co.uk