One of the inequalities in the workplace and one that can have a tremendous impact on the career of a woman is the length of time that can be taken as maternity leave. Fathers currently are only entitled to 2 week’s paternity leave. The Government however is looking to tackle this issue and proposals to allow dads to play a greater role in raising their children are due to come into force in April 2015.
In promoting these proposals Nick Clegg stated that ‘Reform is long overdue and the changes we are making will shatter the perception that women have to be the primary care-givers. In the future, both mothers and fathers will be able to take control of how they balance those precious first months with their child and their careers’.
Sofia Syed from Mundays LLP has provided us with an insight into how these proposals will potentially impact on employees and employers going forward.
Impact on Employees
Currently, mothers have the right to take paid leave to attend antenatal appointments and to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave of which 39 weeks are paid at the statutory rate. The first two weeks after childbirth are compulsory leave. Fathers get two weeks’ paternity leave paid at the statutory rate.
These entitlements won’t be affected but what will change is that, bar the first two weeks of compulsory leave, mothers and fathers will be able to ‘mix and match’ the remaining 50 weeks (37 weeks paid’) if they so wish. This means that they can choose to take their leave in turns or take it together, provided they take no more than 50 weeks. For example, a mother could take the first seven months with the father taking the remaining five months or alternatively the parents could choose to take it together with both taking 6 months. If an employer is agreeable, the leave can even be taken in separate blocks of a week or more rather than in chunks. However, if an employer is reluctant to consider such a pattern – and it is anticipated this may very much be the case and particularly with small employers – then the employee must take the leave in one single block.
A mother can still decide to take all the leave herself and it will simply remain as maternity leave. However, if the parents decide to share the care then it will be known as ‘shared parental leave’.
The bill also introduces a right for fathers to take unpaid time off to attend up to 2 ante-natal appointments with their partner. Also, created is a right for a primary adoptive parent to take paid leave to attend up to 5 introductory appointments and for her partner to take unpaid leave to attend up to 2 introductory appointments.
Employees who are parents, by birth, or by adoption or an intended parent in surrogacy are eligible. Those parents will need to satisfy two tests: the first requires parents to be ‘economically active’ which is assessed in the same way as the criteria for maternity allowance whilst the second test, mirrors the eligibility criteria for statutory maternity pay.
Impact on Employers
The Government recommends that employees should begin discussions with their employers about the dates and pattern of leave they plan to take as soon as possible. However, it decided against making it a requirement. Instead, it proposes that mothers and fathers should give eight weeks’ notice of their intention to take each period of shared parental leave. This notice can be given before the child’s birth enabling the parents to enter shared parental leave immediately after the end of the compulsory maternity leave period. Alternatively, a mother can give notice to end maternity leave and to enter the shared parental leave system.
The Government proposes that following receipt of a notice the employer and employee should start a two week discussion period to see if the pattern of shared parental leave can be agreed.
Will the Employer have to consult with employee’s partner’s employer?
The Government says no, because it believes it will be sufficient for parents to provide a self-certified notice containing:
- The dates on which the mother’s maternity leave started and will end;
- The balance of leave and pay that remains;
- The maximum shared parental leave entitlement of each parent ie how the parents have decided leave and pay will be shared between them; and
- A declaration signed by both parents that they meet the eligibility criteria for shared leave.
What happens when the mother or father returns to work?
Currently, a woman returning from ordinary maternity leave absence (up to 26 weeks) is entitled to return to her same job. If she returns after additional maternity leave (up to 52 weeks) she is entitled to return to the same job except where it is no longer reasonably practicable to do so. In such circumstances she must be given another job on no less favourable terms.
The Government has not yet confirmed the position regarding return after shared parental leave and it is consulting on two possible approaches:
1) A parent would have the right to return to the same job when returning from their first continuous block of leave up to 26 weeks. However, if returning from a subsequent period of shared parental leave they would only have the right to return to the same or similar job; or
2) A parent would have the right to return to the same job regardless of how many periods of shared parental leave they have taken provided they have taken 26 or fewer weeks’ leave in total. If they exceed 26 weeks’ leave, they would only have the right to return to the same or a similar job.
How will the new arrangements be administered?
Time will tell. The Bill does not contain any details on how shared parental leave will work in practice and the Government is currently consulting on how it can be administered with minimum impact on business. It has promised a light touch approach, but we will have to wait until it publishes its Regulations before assessing whether it will indeed be straightforward.
The Government’s reform proposals have broadly been welcomed by employers and the CBI says ‘shared parental leave can be a win-win for employers and employees, supporting working families while helping businesses retain talent’. However, employers have warned that for the benefits to be felt, the administration of shared parental leave must be simple to work for parents and for businesses.
Employers should keep an eye on these new developments and before their introduction, should consider reviewing their policies, procedures and HR training in line with changing legislation.
For further details and information please contact Sofia Syed 01932 590581 at Mundays LLP (http://www.mundays.co.uk/)
- Why dads pass on paid paternity leave (marketwatch.com)
- Will shared parental leave turn negative stereotypes around? (guardian.co.uk)
- Working Mothers: Work After Baby (Infographic) (helloladies.com)