If recent surveys are an accurate reflection, there may be more interest in shared parental leave than originally anticipated.
In a recent survey by ADP, results reveal that a third of workers under the age of 34, those most likely to be planning to have children, were intending to take advantage of the new right to share parental leave.
If that is right, now is clearly the time to ensure plans for implementing shared parental leave are in place. Businesses need to ensure that rules and policies are drafted, guidance notes available, communications to the workforce agreed and managers trained on the new right.
Last week saw the publication of the final version of the regulations governing shared parental leave. Those regulations came into force today, 1 December 2014.
To re-cap, the new regulations encourage the sharing of "family" leave between working parents (and adopters). Employees can opt into the new system of shared parental leave for children due to be born/placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015. Given that the new system relates to an expected due date and taking into account the age old dilemma of pinpointing precisely when a baby will make its entrance into the world, there is a real possibility of parents being able to opt into this system ahead of April.
In very broad terms, mothers and adopters can choose to curtail maternity and adoption leave to opt in to shared parental leave. The little-used right to additional paternity leave will be abolished on 5 April 2015. Shared parental leave doesn't replace existing maternity and adoption leave rights. Instead it enables mothers/adopters to elect to convert a portion of that leave, so that up to 50 weeks' leave and 37 weeks' pay can be shared between both parents.
The timing for taking of the leave will also be more flexible. Parents can apply for continuous periods of leave which they can take at the same time or separately up to the child's first birthday/anniversary of placement.
When a period of continuous leave is requested it cannot be refused. Discontinuous periods of leave are possible, but only where agreement is reached with the employer. The notification requirements are prescriptive and it's clear employees are likely to need guidance on the system and how to make a request.
The initial requirement is for the employee to submit a non-binding notice that he or she intends to take shared parental leave. This is then followed by a 'period of leave' or booking notice confirming full details of the request, including the amount of and pattern of the leave to be taken. The default position in relation to pay is that a flat rate will be available with employers free to offer more generous enhanced arrangements if they wish.
Whether the results of this latest survey are borne out remains to be seen. In the meantime, what do employers need to be doing?
- Preparing policies and guidance
- Reviewing existing family leave policies to incorporate changes due in 2015 and references to shared parental leave
- Training line managers on the new leave, how it will operate and how to respond to requests.