The details behind Shared Parental Leave legislation

From 5 April, Shared Parental Leave will be available to eligible parents. In the fourth of our five-part employment law series, we examine what the benefits to employees will be and what it will cost employers

What is Shared Parental Leave?

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is a new right that will allow eligible parents and adopters to choose how to share time off work on the birth or adoption of a child on or after 5 April 2015.

Parents will still be able to take maternity, paternity and adoption leave – but an eligible mother or adopter will be able to choose to end their maternity/ adoption leave early and opt into SPL.

Additional paternity leave (which gives a father or partner extra leave if the mother has returned to work and is not claiming statutory maternity pay), will be replaced by SPL. At the moment though, only approximately 1 per cent of eligible parents use this right.

How will SPL work in practice?

Eligible employees will be entitled to up to 50 weeks’ SPL (after the two-week compulsory maternity leave period). This is based on the mother’s or primary adopter’s entitlement to take up to 52 weeks’ leave. If they choose to reduce their maternity or adoption leave entitlement and opt into SPL, they can take any remaining weeks as SPL. Their partner can take SPL at the same time or consecutively.

So, if a mother ends her maternity leave after 14 weeks, she will have 38 weeks left of her total 52-week entitlement to take as SPL, which can be shared with her partner and taken at the same time or consecutively.

SPL must be taken in blocks of at least one week. This can be one continuous block or two or more blocks, with the parent returning to work in between. If a continuous block is requested, an employer must accept the request but an employer can refuse a request to take SPL if a discontinuous block is requested. Employees must give eight weeks’ notice of the chosen start date for the first period of SPL.

Employees can work for up to 20 days during SPL (known as SPLIT or “shared parental leave in touch” days). These days will be paid at an employee’s normal rate. There are also certain protections for an employee returning to work after SPL.

Read more about SPL:

Who can take SPL?

There are various qualifying conditions for SPL. The mother must have a partner and be entitled to maternity or adoption leave or statutory maternity or adoption pay or maternity allowance (which may be payable if the mother is not eligible for statutory maternity pay). A parent who takes SPL must share the main responsibility for the child with the other parent.

In addition, a parent wanting to take SPL must meet the “continuity of employment test” and their partner must meet the “employment and earnings test”. The first test requires the parent to have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the child’s expected due date or adoption matching date and still be employed at the first of each SPL period. The second test requires the parent’s partner to have worked for at least 26 weeks and earned an average of at least £30 a week in the 66 weeks leading up to the child’s expected due date or matching date.

Read the the other employment law features in our series:

Is SPL paid?

An eligible parent is entitled to statutory maternity pay or adoption pay or maternity allowance for up to 39 weeks. If a parent gives notice to reduce their entitlement, the parent and their partner may be entitled to receive Shared Parental Pay for any remaining weeks (up to 37 weeks in total after the two-week compulsory maternity leave period).

Shared Parental Pay will be paid at the lower of £139.58 per week, or 90 per cent of an employee’s average weekly earnings from 5 April 2015.

What should businesses do now?

Eligible parents have been able to apply for SPL since 1 December 2014 and you should start planning for the introduction of this right now. Businesses would be wise to put in place a clearly worded policy to deal with requests and ensure that this is communicated to all employees. 

You should also encourage full and open discussions with your employees about their plans for parental leave at an early stage so that you can put plans in place to cover any absences. You should also review your payroll arrangements to ensure that accurate records are kept in respect of Shared Parental Pay. Some employers, including the civil service, have announced enhanced Shared Parental Pay schemes and this may also be something you wish to consider.

Aisleen Pugh is a solicitor in the employment team at London law firm Bircham Dyson Bell.

Image: Shutterstock

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