Shared parental leave comes into force

Employment lawyers are warning companies to bring their policies up to date following the introduction of shared parental leave earlier this month.

Shared parental leave allows couples to share maternity or adoption leave and pay.

Heather Grant, employment lawyer at local firm Maxwell Hodge said:

“Shared parental leave is now law and this will have an impact on employers, with more fathers considering sharing leave and taking more time off work.

“Shared parental leave allows couples to share 52 weeks leave and 39 weeks pay to care for a new baby or child placed for adoption. It is hoped that more fathers will consider sharing leave and taking more time off work than has been the case to date under the old paternity leave system.

“The new rules mean that couples who are adopting or expecting a baby can not only share leave over the first 12 months following adoption or birth, but they can start and stop that leave, returning to work between leave periods, without forfeiting their entitlement.”

Heather said:

“Shared parental leave offers a lot of flexibility for couples but, in turn, it means that employers will need to be more flexible and work with staff to plan for absences from work.”

Previous rules allowed a father to take two weeks ordinary paternity leave following the birth of their child, which was paid at the statutory rate of £138.18 a week or 90% of normal weekly earnings if lower. Fathers were also entitled to additional paternity leave of up to 26 weeks. In order to take additional paternity though, the mother would have to curtail her maternity leave and statutory maternity pay and transfer the balance to the father.

Additional paternity leave has now been replaced with shared parental leave, which allows mothers to share up to 50 weeks of their maternity leave and 37 weeks of maternity pay with their partners (the first two weeks of leave and pay following birth remain with the mother as her compulsory maternity leave period). Shared parental pay will be at the current statutory rate of £138.18 a week.

Many question whether the new system will have a major impact on childcare though. Current statistics suggest more than half of fathers don’t take advantage of their two weeks ordinary paternity leave.

Whilst 69% of mothers take six months or more maternity leave, 25% of new fathers take no time off at all following the birth of their children, and the figures for those taking additional paternity leave are under 10%.

Heather added:

“The government has a long-term strategy to alter the balance of childcare between men and women. The main problem for men though is financial. For fathers to take advantage of family friendly leave, they need to be able to afford to do so. However in most cases, the father will only receive statutory pay while in many cases employers will enhance the statutory maternity pay scheme, making it financially more viable for the mother to stay off and collect enhanced maternity pay while the father remains in work on full pay.

“While I do believe there will be more cases of fathers taking longer periods of time off under shared parental leave, I still think these will be the minority unless and until employers start to extend enhanced maternity pay schemes to shared parental leave schemes.”

For more information on parental leave and legal advice contact Maxwell Hodge on www.maxweb.co.uk or call them on 0151 227 4545.

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