ACAS have published a guide to help employers understand new rights on sharing maternity or adoption leave. The guidance can be accessed here.
Under the new system, a pregnant woman will continue to have access to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of pay but from April, working families will have the opportunity to share this leave.
Shared parental leave (ShPL) will be available to eligible employees whose babies are due on after 5 April 2015, or who have a child placed with them for adoption on or after that date. It is entirely optional and parents who do not wish to take ShPL will remain entitled to benefits from all existing rights except additional paternity leave and pay which is being abolished.
The default position will be that employees will take 52 weeks of maternity leave (or adoption leave) and will only transfer this to ShPL if they “opt in”.
The scheme anticipates that employees will be able to take ShPL in one continuous block (known as ‘continuous leave’) or in smaller blocks of leave (a minimum of a week at a time), interspersed with time at work (known as ‘discontinuous leave’).
Employees wishing to take ShPL have to serve a number of notices and employers are obliged to grant requests for continuous leave, but can refuse requests for intermittent leave periods if this causes disruption to the business.
The idea behind the changes is to enable parents to choose which of them wishes to take on the role of primary carer during the child’s first year and to give both parents the option of taking time off together during that time, something that is not possible under the currently system, other than in respect of the two weeks paternity leave.
Stewart Gee of ACAS said: “Our guide was produced with input from large and small employers, family groups and trade unions and is designed to ensure working parents and employers alike can understand the new shared parental leave arrangements. We advise employers and employees to start early with discussions to ensure that they can agree the sort of arrangements which work best for business and working families. We are also running training courses to help employers prepare for the legal changes.”
The new system is highly regulated and will take recruiters who act as employers some time to get used to. In this regard, the ACAS guide is particularly welcome as it includes draft policies and letters that businesses can adapt. There are, however, a number of key areas where uncertainty remains. For example, it is still not clear, whether those businesses that offer enhanced maternity pay, will need to offer similar enhancements for employees taking ShPL. In addition, there is some suggestion that parents may be able to get around the employer’s right to refuse an application for discontinuous leave, if the employee serves separate notices for the leave required.
Recruiters who act as employers would be wise to familiarise themselves with the guidance, with a view to preparing for April 2015.
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