Shared parental leave provides an opportunity for eligible parents to take advantage of additional flexibility in the way they choose to care for a new arrival to the family.
It allows parents to share caring responsibilities evenly or have one parent taking the main caring role, depending on their preferences and circumstances. Unlike maternity/adoption leave, eligible employees can stop and start their shared parental leave and return to work between periods of leave with each eligible parent able to submit three notices booking periods of leave (although an employer may allow more).
In April 2015, the government allowed new parents to share an additional 50 weeks’ leave which they can share. This is on top of the compulsory two weeks maternity leave a mother must take after giving birth.
These weeks can be split however the parents choose, and can be taken in tandem, or at continuous separate times during the baby’s first year. There can also be an overlap of time.
In Scandinavia, where shared parental leave is encouraged, 25 per cent of fathers have taken up the option of sharing the leave.
However, in the UK, just 9,200 new parents took advantage of the government’s Shared Parental Leave scheme during the 12 months ending in March this year, according to the law firm EMW.
Shared parental leave policy
To ensure consistency in making and responding to notifications regarding SPL, it is a good idea for employers to set out the working arrangements and the employee’s rights in a policy or workforce agreement.
It can be a standalone policy, which refers to and interacts with other family friendly policies, or it could be included within a wider maternity and paternity policy. Some employers may decide not to have an SPL policy.
However, they should ensure their employees know how to apply for SPL and must still meet the statutory minimum requirements in the legislation.
When developing an SPL policy, any existing consultation and/or negotiating arrangements should be followed so that employees or their representatives can contribute to it.
A policy should include:
- a statement advising that all notices for a continuous period of leave, from eligible employees, will be accepted and that all requests for discontinuous leave will be considered
- the amount of notifications to book/vary leave available to the employee
- how employees should inform their employer of their entitlement to SPL, who the notification should be sent to and what should be included in it
- how a notice to book leave will be handled
- the time limits for dealing with a notice to book SPL
- Shared Parental Leave in Touch days
- contact during SPL
- the payments an employee may be entitled to while on SPL
- where to find forms and further information
A mother can only share her leave with one other person.
To trigger the right to SPL for one or both parents, the mother must:
- have a partner
- be entitled to maternity/adoption leave; or to statutory maternity/adoption pay or maternity allowance (if not eligible for maternity/adoption leave)
- have curtailed, or given notice to reduce, their maternity/adoption leave, or their pay/allowance (if not eligible for maternity/adoption leave).
A parent who intends to take SPL must:
- be an employee
- share the primary responsibility for the child with the other parent at the time of the birth or placement for adoption
- have properly notified their employer of their entitlement and have provided the necessary declarations and evidence.
In addition, a parent wanting to take SPL is required to satisfy the ‘continuity of employment test’ and their partner must meet the ‘employment and earnings test’. You will be able to find these tests at www.acas.org.uk
An employee cannot take shared parental leave if they:
- are an agency worker
- are on a zero-hours contract
- are a single parent
- have no responsibility for the care of the child