New rules will soon come into force which will allow parents to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave (concurrently, consecutively, and/or returning to work for periods in between).
This change offers a greater degree of flexibility for parents and, as a result, more uncertainty for employers. The key for businesses will be to understand the new systems and ensure they work with their employees to plan around the periods of leave.
- Spend time reviewing the new rules. Shared parental leave (SPL) is due to come into force on 1st December and will apply to children whose expected week of childbirth (EWC) is on or after 5th April 2015 (or who are placed for adoption after that date).
- Consider who is eligible. To qualify, an employee must have 26 weeks' continuous employment at the 15th week before the EWC and still be in employment when the leave is taken. The employee's partner must also satisfy minimum employment and earnings criteria.
- Meet early with the employee to discuss their plans. SPL is not compulsory and an employee may prefer to stick with maternity or paternity leave.
- Employees wishing to take SPL must put forward a non-binding plan of how they intend to allocate the 50 weeks of SPL between them at least 8 weeks before the first proposed period of leave. Regular meetings with the employee should ensure you are made aware of any changes to their proposal early.
- If there are couples in your business, special consideration may need to be given to how the business would cope if both individuals were to take SPL concurrently.
- Put a policy in place setting out the procedure to be followed by employees and by you. The new laws include specific notice periods and time limits and a detailed policy will help both parties know what is expected.
- Try to maintain regular contact with employees on SPL. The legislation allows for up to 20 days’ work during SPL. Although you cannot force an employee to come into work during their leave, some contact during SPL may be beneficial to both parties.
- Where an employee puts forward a proposal for discontinuous periods of SPL, carefully consider whether the proposal is feasible. An employer may consent to the proposal, refuse the dates requested or propose alternative dates. If no agreement on dates can be reached, the employee will be entitled to take the leave requested only as one continuous period.
- Ensure you do not subject an employee to a detriment or dismiss an employee because they took or sought to take SPL. Any dismissal will be automatically unfair and an employee who takes SPL has an express right not to be subjected to a detriment because of it.
- Where a redundancy situation arises during a period of SPL, the employee on SPL should be given priority over other employees who are also at risk of redundancy to any suitable alternative vacancy.
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