It has long been established that female employees have a right to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave – and they are required by law to take minimum compulsory maternity leave for the two weeks immediately following birth.Further, since April 2011, fathers have been able to take advantage of a single period of up to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave, but only after the baby is 20 weeks old and on condition that the mother returns to work. From April 2015, as an alternative, mothers and fathers will be able to take up to 50 weeks’ shared parental leave between them, either together or separately and, if preferred, in a series of blocks – provided any leave is taken within 52 weeks from birth. The Government hopes that shared parental leave will “encourage more fathers and partners to play a greater caring role, enable both parents to retain a strong link with the labour market and allow employers and employees greater flexibility in how work and family commitments are balanced”. In its response to a consultation on the shared parental leave proposals, the Government has given a broad outline of how the system will work:
- Employees must provide a non-binding indication of their expected pattern of leave at the outset and at least eight weeks’ notice of their intention to take a specified period of leave;
- There will be flexibility for employees to change their plans up to twice during the period of leave, provided they give at least eight weeks’ notice. A mother will also have the right to revoke any notice of shared parental leave within six weeks of birth if, for example, she decides to remain on maternity leave instead;
- During shared parental leave, each employee can work for up to 20 keeping in touch (“KIT”) days (in addition to the ten KIT days available to a mother during maternity leave); and
- An employee will have the right to return to the same job, provided they have not taken more than 26 weeks’ leave in aggregate – otherwise the right is to return to the same job or, if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job.
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