Last week, we reported that shared parental leave proposals had hit the rocks after disagreement between the Coalition partners about the detail of proposals. However, the Government has confirmed today that shared parental leave will be introduced from April 2015.
At present, the statutory leave entitlement for new parents is more generous to new mothers, who are required to take up to 2 weeks' maternity leave but can take up to 52 weeks' maternity leave. Fathers are only entitled to two weeks 'ordinary' paternity leave, together with 'additional' paternity leave of up to 26 weeks if certain conditions are met, including that the mother has returned to work.
Shared parental leave will allow parents to share up to 50 weeks' shared parental leave and 37 weeks' pay, increasing flexibility of leave arrangements between parents. Other details announced today include that:
- employers will be able to insist that employees take their leave in a single continuous block (although if the employer agrees, leave can be taken in multiple, shorter blocks);
- employees must indicate how they plan to share their parental leave eight weeks in advance;
- employees can change their plans up to two times during their leave; and
- employees retain the right to return to the same job where the leave lasts 6 months or less; in all other cases, the right is to return to a similar (but not identical) role.
The proposals have received a lukewarm reception, with trade unions and leading Labour figures suggesting that the proposals do not go far enough to help new parents and the Institute of Directors complaining that the proposals are a "nightmare" for small employers.
Although the headline points have been announced today, one of the key criticisms levied at the plans to date is how employers will be able to stop employees abusing the system and taking more than their entitlement to shared parental leave. This was not addressed in today's announcements and there will be further consultation on these and other issues over the next year.