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Government published details of proposals for shared parental leave

30th November 2013
The Government has stated for some time that it wants to enable both the parents of a child to share the statutory leave entitlement. In the process of dealing with this promise the Government published a consultation paper. It has now provided its response to the consultation. The policy is being taken through Parliament through Part 6 of the Children and Families Bill, with the intention of it becoming law in 2015.
The main aim is that having shared parental leave will enable eligible mothers and fathers to be absent from work due to their childcare committment for a combined maximum of 52 weeks. Of that some 39 weeks will be covered by paid parental pay. In essence a couple will be able to take the leave together- so that the mother does not have to return to work after the compulsory maternity leave period has ended. Alterntaively the parents will be able to arrange the leave so that the mother could return to work and allow her partner to take the balance of the leave period, or the couple could take leave in turns.
The system envisaged by the Government will restrict the number of times an employee can change his or her leave plans, restricting to three the number of notifications of leave that can be given. Those three notifications will include the original notification and allow up to two future changes. In practice this is to try to make the system manageable for employers while stiking a balance in the childcare committment of the parents. So, an employer will not have to accept or agree to any more than three notifications to take shared parental leave on specific dates or changes to dates already given. A greater number of divisions of the leave period can take place, but only if the employer agrees- it cannot be forced to allow more than the three notifications. Originally the Government suggested that it would allow an unlimited number of changes within the total 52 weeks leave entitlement, but the Government has accepted that this could prove unmanageable for businesses. 
Basically employees will have to give notice to their employers of their intention to opt into the shared parental system, and provide a non-binding indication of their expected patterns of leave at the outset. 
Employees will be requried to give the same mandatory information when opting into the shared parental leave system as is currently required when fathers take additional paternity leave. Employees will be required to give up to 8 weeks notice of their intention to take any period of leave- providing employers with some time to prepare for the absence and make arrangements to cover the work done by the employee. The 8 week notice period will specifically include a 2 week period to discuss the arrangements with their employer.
Clearly employers need some certainty as to the plans of the parents, and so the notice to opt into the shared parental leave scheme will be binding if it is given before the birth of the child, but the mother will have six weeks from the birth to revoke this notice.
Both parents will be able to take up to 20 "keeping in touch" days during the parental leave period.
The right to retrun to the same or similar job will be maintained for employees returning from ANY period of shared parental leave and when returning from any period of maternity leave, paternity leave, or adoption leave, which totals 26 weeks or less in aggregate, even if they take their leave in disjointed blocks.
The Government hopes that these proposals will be workable for both parents and employers.
Clearly employers will need to prepare for the introduction of this system, and should consider preparing their managers for dealing with the practical management and consequences of these changes. In addition employers should start to apply their minds to the introduction of policies that will address these changes.
At Hallett  Employment Law Seervices we can advise on this issue and help you prepare and implement suitable policies to enable compliance with this shared parental leave system.          

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