Shaping the future together

Shared Parental Leave:  A nightmare for employers?

Maternity leave is already a problematical issue; it can be a headache managing cover for absence and accommodating requests for part time working. In April 2015 the law radically changed and a “Shared Parental Leave” scheme will be introduced

The Law

The new legislation is called the Children and Families Act 2014 and has been introduced to reflect the changes in parenting patterns and to give fathers more opportunity to be fully involved in the process of child rearing. The policy was championed by the Liberal Democrats. Currently mums can already return to work after 26 weeks and transfer the balance i.e., 26 weeks additional maternity leave to the father. In reality the take up has been fairly sparse, figures show fewer than one in 50 new fathers are taking up this existing right.

What Is New?

The new right will apply to mothers, fathers, partners and adopters. It will allow all the parents or adopters to take blocks of time off, effectively sharing the leave. The 52 week total limit remains unaffected as per maternity leave.The mother has to take the first 2 weeks off but that then leaves potentially 50 weeks that can be shared.

The new rules will apply where a baby is due to be born on or after 5 April 2015, so its going to affect pregnant mums very soon (and dads).

  • Dads will be entitled to time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments, but the time off is unpaid
  • The new rights are in addition to the existing two weeks’ paid leave that Dads are entitled to (paternity pay)
  • Mothers who return to work have a right to access facilities to enable them to continue breastfeeding (by expressing milk at work)
  • The new system is in addition to both parents’ rights to make a flexible working request
  • The number of KIT days are increased to 20 for each parent, which will be seen as a plus in many salons

Both partners must have 26 weeks’ service and earn over £112 per week 15 weeks before the baby is due to be eligible to participate in sharing the leave.

How Will It Work – Requesting Shared Parental Leave

Parents who qualify for the right will need to decide if Shared Parental Leave (ShPL) is an option for them. When requesting shared parental leave initially (and at all subsequent requests for blocks of leave) they must:

  • give details of how much ShPL is available to them ie how much has been used
  • give details of the amount of leave each parent intends to take
  • give a non-binding indication of when the employee is intending to take leave

The parents can subsequently vary the amount of leave that each will take leave by notifying their employers of the change.

  • Parents can choose to opt into Shared Parental Leave at any time, so long as there is some untaken maternity leave to share. So a mother might have 2 months maternity leave and then decide to request shared parental leave.
  • But an employee opting for Shared Parental Leave must “book” the leave they wish to take, giving their employer at least 8 weeks’ notice.
  • Each eligible employee can give their employer up to 3 separate notices that they wish to take a block of parental leave. Each notice can be for a block of leave, or the notice may request a pattern of “discontinuous” leave involving different periods of leave. If a parent requests discontinuous blocks of leave the employer can refuse the request and require the total weeks of leave in the notice to be taken in a single continuous block. This is important and worth clarifying. Requests for a block of leave must have the request approved but if the block is discontinuous it can be refused – so, for example, if someone asks for two six-week periods of leave, an employer can insist that it is taken as a single 12-week block.
  • It is easy to envisage the potential problems if your therapist has 10 weeks off, then returns for 8 weeks before requesting another block of 10 weeks off.

Confirming eligibility

When a salon owner receives notice from an employee that he or she intends to take shared parental leave, it can request a copy of the child’s birth certificate and the name and address of the employee’s partner’s employer.

Practical Issues

We know that the workforce in the industry is primarily female and some employers might view the change positively as it could mean their employee has double the amount of KIT days and might potentially return to work earlier than was previously the case. However I am sure many more have alarm bells ringing. It is difficult enough to recruit good quality temporary staff currently but the prospect of recruiting someone for a block of e.g., 10 weeks who then might not be required for the next 10 weeks isn’t an attractive one. I envisage the plans for sharing the leave made before the baby is born will regularly be the subject of change after the birth. In short it means that temporary contracts will have to be very carefully worded.