Government outlines new shared parental leave system

The government has outlined how its new system of shared parental leave will work for employees and employers when it comes into force in April 2015.

A government consultation, which opened in February 2013 and closed in May, looked at how the new system will work and fit together with current arrangements for maternity and paternity leave and adopters, as part of the government’s commitment to support working families.

The proposals for shared parental leave and flexible working are included in the Children and Families Bill 2013, which is currently going through Parliament. The details will be set out in regulations.

The new leave system will allow eligible working families to have more choice about how they balance their work and caring commitments. Parents can choose to be at home together or to work at different times and share the care of their child.

The government announced that it will:

  • Protect mothers who give binding notice to opt into shared parental leave prior to giving birth by introducing a right to revoke the notice up to six weeks following birth. This is to make sure that every mother is able to remain on maternity leave, if she chooses to, once she has given birth.
  • Require employees to give a non-binding indication of when they expect to take their allocated leave when they initially notify their employers of their intention to take shared parental leave. Employees will also be expected to give at least eight weeks’ notice of any leave they will be taking. This is to support employers in being able to plan their workforce.
  • Introduce a limit on the number of times a parent can notify the employer to take a period of shared parental leave. The number of notifications will be capped at three (the original notification and two further notifications or changes). Provision will be made for changes that are mutually agreed between the employer and employee to not count towards this cap. The cap will enable parents to use the leave flexibly but reduce the uncertainty an employer may experience from an unlimited number of notifications.
  • Set the cut-off point for taking shared parental leave at 52 weeks following birth (or adoption).
  • Create a new provision for each parent to have up to 20 days under shared parental leave to support them in returning to work. Parents will be able to use these days to return to work from shared parental leave on a part-time basis for a limited time.
  • Maintain the right to return to the same job for employees returning from any period of leave that includes maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave that totals 26 weeks or less in aggregate; even if the leave is taken in discontinuous blocks. Any subsequent leave will attract the right to return to the same job, or if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job.
  • Align the notice periods for leave and pay for a parent taking paternity leave to make the system simpler.
  • Publish guidance to encourage employees who qualify under the new fostering-for-adoption placement process to give employers as much warning as possible.

The current statutory procedure will be repealed to lift the burden on employers, and the government has asked the Advisory, Consiliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to produce a code of practice to help organisations manage this new extended right.

Acas will also produce a non-statutory good practice guide with practical examples of managing this in the workplace. This will be published alongside the final code early next year.

Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, said: “Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby.

“They should be supported by their employers, rather than being made to feel less employable or under pressure to take unchallenging jobs.

“It is already illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant or on maternity leave, but we want to go further than that. We want to create a fairer society that gives parents the flexibility to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth. 

“We need to challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home; many fathers want that option too. That is why, from April 2015, we’re introducing shared parental leave to allow couples to make that decision jointly ensuring all career options remain open to women after pregnancy.

“There shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach; that’s not how families are set up.

“Many businesses already recognise how productive and motivated employees are when they’re given the opportunity to work flexibly, helping them retain talent and boost their competitive edge. This is good for families, good for business and good for our economy.”

Jo Swinson, business minister, added: “Thanks to extensive discussions with business and family groups, we have found a workable approach to shared parental leave.

“Getting the detail right is crucial if shared parental leave is to drive a real cultural shift and help working dads play a greater role in their child’s early months.

“We want to shatter the perception that it is mainly a woman’s role to stay at home and look after the child and a man’s role to be at work.

“Employers too can gain from a system that allows them to keep talented women in the workforce and to have more motivated and productive staff.

“This new system will also give us a great opportunity to make our workforce even more flexible, help working families and boost economic growth.