Shared parental leave: What it’s worth knowing

The new law is designed to give families more flexibility
You can take it in blocks, but it won’t be the best option for everyone.
Billed as Nick Clegg’s greatest achievement as deputy prime minister, from next year, parents will be able to share parental leave after the birth of their child. Designed to give more choice over how a baby is looked after in the first year of its life, a mother will be able to opt out of maternity leave, taking shared parental leave instead. She will still have access to 52 weeks of maternity leave, and 39 weeks of statutory pay but, bar the mandatory two weeks’ leave straight after a birth, this will all be shareable with the child’s other parent. Anyone due on or after 5 April 2015 will be eligible. But how easy will it be to make use of this new entitlement? City A.M. asks the experts.

PICKING AND CHOOSING

First, remember your employer will need time to adjust. Lucy McLynn of law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite says that, although you’re only required to give eight weeks’ notice before you’re going to take parental leave, an earlier discussion with your employer will give them more time to make provisions for your absence.
And while employers make decisions on what they’re going to offer, you may want to think strategically about what will suit you. Jessica Corsi of employment solicitors Doyle Clayton points out that many City institutions now offer six months’ maternity leave at full pay. If those same firms decide not to enhance pay during shared parental leave, some mothers may decide not to take it – the same is true of return to work bonuses.

BUILDING BLOCKS

A key aspect of shared parental leave is that it can be taken in several blocks – parents who are eligible will be able to mix weeks of work and weeks of leave during the year. Employers are, in theory, entitled to turn down requests for blocks of leave, but employees also have the right to make three separate requests, which could mean firms are put in a tricky position. The key here, McLynn suggests, is negotiation. There could even be positives for companies: “if employees are willing to do a period of work at peak times, employers might even come to see separate blocks of leave as beneficial, rather than detrimental.”

DADDY COOL

Another key theme of shared parental leave is giving more opportunity to fathers. But both Corsi and McLynn highlight hurdles that men might face to make the most of the new right. McLynn says that early adopters “will need to accept that they are trailblazers, and may experience some of the same discriminatory attitudes from employers that women have come up against in the past when taking maternity leave.”
Corsi points out that an off-putting factor for fathers already is that statutory additional paternity pay is usually not enhanced. McLynn advises considering challenging employers who are offering enhanced maternity pay to women, but aren’t providing the same for male employees. It’s not a requirement for employers to equalise maternity pay under the new scheme, but she says there are “clear arguments” around sex discrimination if they don’t.

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