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Changes to parental leave should not be taken lightly by employers, warns Forum

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Standard paternity leave in the UK is set at two weeks with the option of additional paternity leave if their partner returns to work before the end of their maternity leave. But all is set to change with incoming regulation due in April 2015 that will apply to all employers, in an attempt to create a culture change and allow both parents to take a more active role in their children’s upbringing.

While many remain sceptical as to the impact of the planned changes, with continuing ‘ingrained’ workplace attitudes and the father in most cases being the higher wage earner, Jo Eccles, business adviser at the Forum of Private Business, warns that the changes are something that business owners should not take lightly and should make sure they are ready for.

“The debate over whether the changes will go some way to challenging ‘Edwardian attitudes’ towards childcare responsibilities will continue. However, it is essential that employers do not take their responsibilities lightly and make sure they are fully up to speed with the key changes and how they will need to handle these requests.”

Key changes in a nutshell:

As of April 2015, if a new father asks to take shared parental leave, the employer will have to allow the request as long as the employee has 26 weeks continuous service and is not self-employed. Note that these rules also apply to unmarried couples and adoptive parents.

Mothers and fathers will have the right to share up to 52 weeks of parental leave under the new scheme, and can choose to share the leave and pay between them. This can be taken concurrently or consecutively. Fathers can also take two weeks statutory parental leave in addition to any shared parental leave.

However it is worth pointing out that the total amount of statutory pay will not changed (39 weeks for the mother and two weeks for the father) but this will be allowed to be shared.

Employers will have the right to recoup the majority of the statutory parental leave cost from the government.

A father who chooses to take shared parental leave will have to give an employer at least eight weeks’ notice, in order to give them time to sufficient time to plan suitable cover.

The employee will be able to ask to take their shared parental leave in up to three periods, but will have to indicate if they expect they may want to take further leave, although this will not legally binding.

Fathers will also be able to work up to 20 ‘Keeping in Touch’ (KIT) days, in the same way that women have KIT days when on maternity leave. Keeping in touch days are optional, both the employee and employer need to agree to them. The type of work and pay employees get should be agreed before they come into work. The employee’s right to maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave and pay isn’t affected by taking keeping in touch days.

Also remember that your employee will also entitled to take unpaid parental leave (of up to 18 weeks per child) to look after any child under the age of 5, although this has not seen much uptake.

In terms of the legal obligations, the emphasis will be on the employee to request paternity leave, but failure of an employer to consider a request because he is a man could be met with a claim for sex discrimination. What’s more if a father is dismissed because he wanted to take shared parental leave it would be more than likely treated as unfair dismissal.

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