What you need to know about shared parental leave

Parental leaveSarah Buxton gives an in depth insight into the new shared parental leave.

It’s lunchtime at your practice. You have just finished your sandwich and decide to head into the staff room to see how the day is going for your employees. Upon entering you see a crowd of people smiling and offering their congratulations to one of your dental nurses. Your mind starts asking questions, have they bought a house, have they got engaged, have they won the lottery? All manner of scenarios enter your head. You reach the group of people huddled around and discover the reason; your dental nurse is expecting a baby. Naturally you are happy for her, bringing a new baby into the world is something wonderful, however at the same time your mind begins racing. You own a business. You are also aware that the law surrounding this is a minefield. You walk briskly back to your office and frantically begin searching the web to find out what you need to be doing.

As any employment lawyer will tell you, there are many statutory rights for parents in the workplace; maternity, paternity, adoption rights and unpaid parental leave, the key is to make sure that you follow them correctly. Whilst having a quick look on Google may give you the basics and the information you retrieve is more often than not out of date or falls outside of the jurisdiction of the UK, as an employer you should always be up to speed on the latest legislative changes. The most recent change is the introduction of the new shared parental leave (SPL) that will affect any child expected or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015.

There are already a few savvy employees asking about their entitlements and making requests for SPL, so in case that dental nurse comes and asks you, here is what you need to know.

So, how has SPL come into force?

In April 2011, the Labour government introduced additional paternity leave (APL) whereby a father of a child could take a mother’s unused maternity leave entitlement. However this has proved unpopular, with very few fathers taking up the option to have APL. Most parents would like a child to be cared for in the first year by the child’s mother or father, however this tends to be the mother due to cultural and social reasons and due to the fact that up until April 2011, there was no right for a father to remain at home with the child. The fact that there was very little uptake for fathers to take over the last three years or so is probably because we haven’t allowed enough time for this cultural and social change to take place.

Nevertheless, in 2010, the Conservative party promised to adopt a more flexible approach for working parents. This was also reflected in the Lib Dems plans. So when the coalition was formed, it decided to try and encourage more parents to share the parenting in the initial year. And so, they adopted shared parental leave (SPL). SPL replaces APL, however is does not replace maternity leave, or ordinary paternity leave. If the employee does not opt to take SPL, it will default to the normal maternity leave provisions.

How does an employee qualify?

To qualify for shared parental leave, a parent must have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the date of confinement.  Secondly, they must share the main responsibility for the care of the child with the other parent and the ‘other parent’ needs to satisfy an employment and earnings test, meaning they have worked in Great Britain for at least 26 weeks for the period of 66 weeks leading up to the due date of the child having average weekly earnings of not less than £30 per week in 13 of those 66 weeks.

A mother or primary adopter will be able to end their maternity leave or adoption leave or and share the untaken leave with the other parent.

SPL can be taken consecutively or concurrently, as long as the total time taken does not excess what is jointly available to the couple.

Both parents must agree the amount of SPL each of them will take. Neither parent can take SPL unless the other has signed a declaration giving their consent to the division of leave as set out in the notice of entitlement and intention to take SPL.

It’s not compulsory for an employer to request evidence from the parents to ensure they have the benefit of SPL, however within 14 days of either parent providing the notice of intention to take SPL, an employer may request a copy of the child’s birth certificate together with the name and address of the other parent’s employer.

Both employers will need to agree to the proposed pattern of SPL. If one employer agrees but the other does note a revised pattern will need to be present to both employers until they are in agreement. The parents are allowed only three variation notices.

During the period of SPL an employee may work for up to 20 ‘shared parental leave in touch’ days that are similar to the ‘keep in touch’ days, which a women can use during her maternity leave.

When the period of SPL comes to an end both parents have the right to return to work on terms and conditions not less favourable than those that would have applied if there had been no absence.

There are so many different scenarios of how and when SPL can be taken; both parents take SPL at the same time, SPL and maternity leave, SPL and ordinary paternity leave, and therefore it will be difficult for small businesses such as dental practices to know how to deal with the various requests.

Unlike the flexible working arrangements, employers cannot refuse the right for an employee to take SPL.

The question arises who will check that both parents simply do not take a full year off work. HMRC will be checking the legally binding declarations that both parents make setting out what share they will take, to prevent fraud.

During SPL, employees who qualify for shared parental pay (SPP) will be paid £139.58 per week or at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, if this figure is lower than the statutory rate. As of the 5th April, statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay will increase from £138.18 per week to £139.58.

Where do I go from here?

I appreciate that many dental practice owners will not find SPL straightforward to manage. It is important that at your practice you have a SPL policy in place that will help you and staff understand the procedure thoroughly. It is also important to communicate this change to your employees.

It will be interesting to watch this space, to see how SPL unfolds.  The Government has estimated that between 2% and 6% of fathers will take up the new shared parental lave rights. At the very least it provides parents freedom of choice of whether one, or both parents take the opportunity to look after the child in the first year of his/her life. However, the big question will be whether there is any uptake.

The important thing to remember is that yes, while the changes to parental rights are constant and complicated, don’t let them phase or worry you. Make sure you are up to speed so that when you receive the news that one of your employees is expecting you don’t suddenly fill with fear but instead can offer your congratulations.

Please contact 0113 2010407 or sbuxton@lcf.co.uk for further information.

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