Janine Lawton, Employment lawyer at Tallents in Newark

Janine Lawton

On 1 April 2015, new rules will come into force allowing working parents to share parental leave for a year after their child is born. Janine Lawton, employment lawyer at Tallents Solicitors in Newark looks at the key points of shared parental leave that employers should be aware of. Says Janine,

“The changes are complex and it would be easy to fall foul of them, so initially, employers need to understand that the new system applies to parents whose babies are due, or whose children are placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015.”

How will the new shared parental leave rules work?
Currently, mothers are allowed to share their maternity leave with the father, but only once the child has reached 20 weeks of age. Under the new rules, the mother can hand over her parental leave to the father and return to work more quickly, if she wishes. The changes also allow the parents to switch back during the leave period.
What do employers need to know about shared parental leave?
Although the leave must be taken in full weeks, it can be taken either in one block or separately. Each parent can take up to three separate blocks of parental leave, either together or separately. The parents must give their employers a non-binding indication of when they expect to take their parental leave and what proportion will be shared.
Who is eligible for shared parental leave?
Eligibility for shared parental leave will depend on a number of factors:
  1. The expected week of childbirth, or date for adoption, falls on or after 5 April 2015.
  2. The partner with whom the mother intends to share the parental leave must have a relationship to both the mother and child. The partner could be the child’s father, the mother’s husband or civil partner, or a partner of the mother that lives with both her and the child.
  3. The mother must shorten her entitlement to maternity leave, pay and allowance, either by ending her maternity pay or allowance, or simply by returning to work.
In addition to these criteria, the mother and her partner must share the primary responsibility for the child’s care. They must also satisfy the employment and earnings test and the continuity of employment test. To fulfil the employment and earnings test, each must have been continuously employed with their employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 14th week before the expected week of childbirth and remain in continuous employment with that employer until shared parental leave starts. To fulfil the continuity of employment test, each must have been employed (either as an employee or agency worker or on a self-employed basis) for at least 26 weeks during the 66 weeks before the baby is due, and have earned at least £30 a week in 13 of those 26 weeks. Even if only one person in the couple is eligible (meaning the leave cannot be shared), the regulations can be used for the eligible person to take their parental leave in separate blocks.
Rights for employees returning from shared parental leave
Janine finishes:

“Employers should be aware that employees returning from shared parental leave will have the same rights as those returning from maternity leave. Specifically, employees who have been off for less than 26 weeks have the right to return to the same role, and those who have been off for more than 26 weeks have the right to return on no less favourable terms.

“As with maternity leave, contractual and holiday rights remain in place during a period of shared parental leave.

“Employers should also be aware that the regulations provide protection from detriment, including dismissal, as a result of making a request for shared parental leave. It remains to be seen how popular shared parental leave will be but whatever happens, employers need to start preparing for requests now and our employment experts at Tallents are here to offer advice.”