Proposal for Shared Parental Leave

As unconventional family patterns become more common in Britain, same-sex partners, female breadwinners or both parents pursuing a career, the current maternity and paternity leave provisions appear out of date in providing that only the mother is able to take a substantial amount of paid time off in the form of maternity leave in the first months following the birth. Although maternity leave can be shared between the parents to some extent, it is in a way that is not very flexible. Therefore having recognised that the traditional family pattern is no longer the only family pattern we see in Britain today, the Government is proposing to update the current maternity and paternity entitlements and is introducing the Children and Families Bill 2013 (the Bill).
 
The family leave provisions currently in place provide for maternity leave of up to a total of 52 weeks with maternity pay during the first 39 weeks. Fathers are currently entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave which is paid at the statutory rates (£136.78 from 7 April 2013 for both maternity and paternity pay). After the baby is 20 weeks old, if a mother returns to work, her partner can take up to 26 weeks of leave, so called additional paternity leave. The father will therefore be entitled to additional statutory paternity pay if he is on leave during the mother’s unclaimed paid weeks. Statutory adoption leave more or less mirrors maternity leave. Finally, in addition to maternity, paternity and adoption leave both parents may take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave in respect of each child.
 
Proposal for Shared Parental Leave
The Bill proposes a number of changes relating to children and families, including a proposal that the mother may agree to share her maternity leave with the father at a much earlier stage. Under the proposal the existing legislation on maternity, paternity and parental leave outlined above will remain in place but parents will have the option of sharing the maternity leave between them in a new way. The mother will have to take the compulsory 2 weeks maternity leave immediately after the birth as usual. However, the remaining 50 weeks of leave, which includes 37 weeks of paid leave, may be divided between the parents as they see fit so as to better suit their family needs. If the parents decide to share the maternity leave between them (subject to the partner meeting the qualifying criteria) the maternity leave (or part of it) will be converted into Shared Parental Leave. However, if the parents decide that the mother should keep the leave in the usual way it will simply remain as maternity leave.
 
The proposal for Shared Parental Leave will allow parents to choose how they share the care of their child in the first year after birth. When ending her maternity leave a mother will not have to return to work in order for the remaining leave to become Shared Parental Leave. The proposed changes, which the Government plans to introduce in 2015, will allow parents to ‘mix and match’ their leave as they may take their Shared Parental Leave in turns or take it concurrently, providing it is not more than 52 weeks in total plus the usual 2 weeks of paternity leave.
 
The amount of Shared Parental Leave that each parent plans to take must be agreed with their respective employers and the pattern of leave must be taken in minimum one-week blocks. If the pattern cannot be agreed with the employer the employee must take the leave in one single block commencing on a date of the employee’s choice.
 
Adoption and Surrogacy arrangements
Adoption leave will mirror the new maternity leave provisions and statutory adoption pay will be at the same level as statutory maternity pay and will come into force in 2015. Parents who choose to adopt will have the same right to Shared Parental Leave and pay if they satisfy the qualifying criteria. Parents through surrogacy arrangements, subject to the qualifying criteria, may be eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay and Shared Parental Leave.
 
By introducing Shared Parental Leave the government believes that women will be able to return to work for specific projects whilst knowing they can take further leave later thus reducing the current ‘gender penalty’ that women suffer from taking time out of the workplace with their children.
 
The Government’s plans to update the family leave entitlements will no doubt be welcomed by many, as it should create more flexibility for families balancing work and family-life. Nevertheless, the proposed introduction of Shared Parental Leave is hardly ‘radical’ as it has been described by some, considering that various types of Shared Parental Leave have been in place in some other European countries since the 1980s, if not earlier. Further, the proposal for Shared Parental Leave does not change the fact that the cost of child care will continue to leave many families forced to have one parent give up work altogether for a number of years to look after the child. More and more voices are calling for subsidised child care for parents returning to work to follow the successful model of the Scandinavian countries and the Chancellor has just announced in its 2013 Budget a scheme (to start in 2015) that will be worth up to £1,200 per child, and will save a working family with two children under 12 up to £2,400 a year. This is a timid step towards the Scandinavian model – which appears to work on the basis that the expense of child-care subsidies is recouped by increased revenue from income tax received from parents who without cheap childcare would otherwise not be able to go to work. Subsidised child care seems also to set up a virtuous circle in the longer term by making it easier for parents to return to work after the end of maternity or Shared Parental Leave. So this Bill may be only the beginning of the reforms – surely the economy could do with families having more spending power!

The material contained in this newsletter is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances and before action is taken.

© , April 2013

For further information please contact The Employment Team