The new era of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) commenced this month. The idea is simple enough – following the birth or adoption of a child working parents are now able to share up to 50 weeks leave and 37 weeks pay, but its implementation has been criticised as overly complex.
Why only 50 weeks of SPL and 37 weeks of Shared Parental Pay? Because it is still compulsory for mothers to take two weeks maternity leave following the birth of a child. Fathers will be able to exercise their right to statutory paternity leave and pay during this time. It should also be noted that the further four weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90% of normal pay can only be used by the mother or primary adopter, a partner can only claim the lower statutory rate during these weeks.
The SPL regime does give rise to complexity and there are a number of important principles for employers to bear in mind as follows:
- Each parent must have 26 weeks continuous service before they can take SPL.
- Each parent will need to give their employer eight weeks notice before they can take SPL. They will also be required to give a non-binding indication of their proposed SPL plans i.e. how much they propose to take and in what pattern.
- Parents can take SPL at the same time or separately.
- Parents have up to three notices that they can submit to request leave.
- They can request leave in a continuous block of whole weeks, which cannot be refused.
- Parents can request to take SPL in discontinuous blocks, so long as each block is a week or more. An employer does not have to agree to this and there will be a two-week discussion period in which the parties can try to agree arrangements. If they can’t agree, SPL must be taken in one block but the employee can choose the start date.
- Each parent will have up to 20 “keeping in touch” days, known as “SPLIT” days, during SPL.
- The same rights to return to work will apply as after maternity leave: the right to return to the same job if not more than 26 weeks SPL have been taken; or the right to return to the same job as far as reasonably practicable or a suitable alternative if more than 26 weeks SPL have been taken.
- A father who takes SPL will have the same enhanced protection against detriment and dismissal that a woman has during her protected period.
Employers should also note that there may be a discrimination risk where they continue to operate an enhanced maternity pay scheme, but do not enhance Shared Parental Pay. It is possible that a man receiving statutory Shared Parental Pay may be able to compare himself directly or indirectly with a woman receiving enhanced maternity pay. The claims would be by no means simple to successfully pursue, indeed similar arguments in relation to Additional Paternity Pay recently failed, but employers should be alive to the possible risks.
If you would like more information on SPL, please contact: