All you need to know about shared parental leave
Introduced in 2015, shared parental leave is still not being taken up by the majority of parents. But what can be done to ensure parents are given fair access to the rights they are entitled to?Guest blogger Kristie Willis
When shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced on 5 April 2015, Nick Clegg, said “more and more fathers want to play a hands-on role with their young children, but too many feel that they can’t”.
Research carried out by My Family Care and the Women’s Business Council found that just 1% of men had chosen to take SPL in the year since its introduction. Conversely approximately nine in ten fathers in Sweden and Norway take leave, although between 80% and 100% of their earnings are replaced while they are on leave.
The SPL scheme makes up to 50 weeks of SPL and 37 weeks of shared parental pay available for eligible parents to take or share. SPL can either be taken consecutively or concurrently, as long as the total time taken does not exceed what is jointly available to the couple.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said “shared parental leave is provided to help mothers who want to return to work early share responsibility for the care of her child with the father or partner”.
In a recent study carried out by My Family Care, however, 55% of mothers questioned said they did not want to share their leave. Some 80% of employees surveyed believed a decision to share leave would depend on finances and whether their employer paid more than obliged to.
Career progression is also a significant concern with half of men questioned saying they thought taking leave was perceived negatively at work. In addition, only 40% of individuals believed shared parental leave was encouraged by their employer.
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said SPL had been “a welcome small step towards getting dads more involved with childcare”, however she added “takeup has been very low and TUC research shows as many as two in five new fathers are ineligible for shared parental leave, as their partners are not in paid work or they fail to meet the qualifying conditions”.
What can be done?
Employees should have equal opportunities training to remind them that any comments that would be inappropriate in respect of a woman taking maternity leave, would also be inappropriate for either parent in respect of SPL. Employees are protected from suffering any detriment or dismissal because they have taken or are planning to take SPL.
Where an employee returns to work after a period of SPL that, when added to any other period of relevant statutory leave they have taken in relation to the same child, is 26 weeks or less, the employee is entitled to return to the job in which they were employed before their absence.
Where an employee returns to work after a period of SPL that, when added to any other period of relevant statutory leave they have taken in relation to the same child, is more than 26 weeks, the employee is entitled to return to the job in which they were employed before their absence unless it is not reasonably practicable for their employer to return them to that job, in which case they will be entitled to return to another job which is both suitable for them and appropriate for them to do in the circumstances.
In a redundancy situation, employees on SPL have the same priority over other employees at risk of redundancy as is currently provided to employees on maternity or adoption leave.
Unfortunately the provisions and paperwork regarding SPL are not straightforward and it is therefore advisable to have a comprehensive policy which sets out the procedure clearly for the benefit of both employees and the HR department.
Clear policies and training help to encourage employees to take advantage of their entitlement to SPL. Employers should have maternity leave, paternity leave and SPL policies. It is often advisable to have separate policies because of the complexity of the relevant processes.
If employers offer enhanced maternity pay, they should also offer enhanced shared parental pay. If they fail to do so, there is a risk that this could be found to be discriminatory as it is more likely to adversely affect men.
It is important that managers have an understanding of the different options available to employees so that they can advise them before they are referred to HR for further details of the specific processes.
Kristie Willis is a solicitor at BTMK Solicitors Limited