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Employers need to start thinking about impact of shared parental leave on business

Eligible employees may take one week or two continuous weeks paternity leave. To take paternity leave an employee must have:

  • At least 26 weeks continuous employment prior to the 15th week before the babys birth or in adoption cases 26 weeks service when the employee is informed that they have been matched with the child;
  • A specified relationship – the employee must be the childs father or the mothers spouse, civil partner or partner. Similarly, in adoption matters the employee must be the adopters spouse, civil partner or partner. A partner is not necessarily a male employee and is defined as a person (whether of a different sex or the same sex) who lives with the mother/adopter and the child in an enduring family relationship, but is not a relative of the mother/adopter; and
  • Responsibility for the childs upbringing.

The paternity leave must be taken between the birth of the child or the date of placement of the child and 56 days after that date.

The employee must give their employer written notice detailing their intention to take paternity leave, the anticipated date of birth, how long they intend to take off (one week or two continuous weeks) and the date they would like the paternity leave to commence. This must be provided prior to the 15th week before the anticipated date of birth.

Similarly, in adoption cases the employee must give their employer written notice that they wish to take paternity leave, the date which they were told they were matched with the child, the date of placement, the length of paternity leave the employee intends to take and the date which the employee would like the paternity leave to commence.

Shared parental leave

Shared parental leave enables both parents of the child who are employees, (not necessarily of the same employer) to take leave simultaneously addressing the fundamental problem with additional paternity leave – that the father could only take the additional paternity leave if the mother returned to work. Consequently, greater choice is given to the parents.

Shared parental leave will be available to parents if their child is born or adopted only on or after 5 April 2015. Eligible employees will be able to share time off work and can decide between them (without reference to their respective employers) whether they would like to take the time off together or separately.

Employees must notify their employer that they are entitled to shared parental leave and must give eight weeks notice of intention to start their leave. Otherwise it will be assumed that for the mother, the usual maternity ordinary (26 weeks) and additional (a further 26 weeks) leave entitlement will apply unless the employee gives notice to the contrary. A continuous block leave cannot be refused by an employer, whereas a notification for discontinuous (intermittent) leave can be refused. In these circumstances the employee is likely to either withdraw the notice or take the leave as continuous leave.

Employers may start to receive notices for shared parental leave from January 2015. ACAS is drafting guidance and this should be available in the Autumn of this year.

Undoubtedly, shared parental leave creates more choice for families and seems a natural step forward in an equal society. However, this will need to be addressed by employers soon and relevant amendments will need to be made to existing family leave policies in contracts and staff handbooks. Employers will also need to make cover arrangements such as the possibility of employing temporary staff to cover the staff shortage, particularly if the employee is taking continuous leave.

Shared parental leave has been available in Sweden since 1974 and The Economist reported in July 2014 that approximately 90 per cent of Swedish fathers take paternity leave. The Department for Business Innovation & Skills published a report entitled ‘Modern Workplaces: Shared parental leave and pay administration consultation impact assessment‘ in February 2013 while they first considered the Bill. It predicted that between two to eight per cent of fathers would utilise this right.

Is the right balance being struck between the Government desire for a flexible labour market against the interest of rights and obligations to the employee Time will tell whether fathers do take up their new rights and how employers will manage parental leave absences. Employers should think about the impact of change on them now.

Nick Hobden is head of the employment team at Thomson Snell & Passmore.

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