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Changes to rights of working parents to go ahead

31st March 2014
The Government has for a long time stated that it intended to extend the rights of working parents. In particular they stated that they would make it possible for the parents of children to share the usual entitlement to statutory maternity leave. An issue behind this was to encourage fathers to be able to share the extended leave and pay entitlement in order to devote more time to their children.

The Government's proposals, set out in the Children and Families Act 2014, have received Royal Assent.The Act contains a number of provisions including a new shared parental leave entitlement, and the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees.
There are a number of issues addressed within the Act, and different parts of the Act will come into force at different dates.
Currently the flexible working provisions only apply to parents of some children and some carers. Under the new law the right to request flexible working will be extended to ALL employees from the 30th June 2014. The current statutory procedure for making and dealing with such requests will be removed. Instead employers will be under a legal duty to deal with any such request in a "reasonable" manner. ACAS has published a draft Code to assist employers in preparing for the changes in the law. The Code is not statute and so is not binding, but may be considered by Employment Tribunals in cases on this topic. 

The right to time off for ante-natal care is to be extended under the new Act. The Act creates a ne right for employees and some agency workers to take unpaid time off work to attend up to two ante-natal appointments with a pregnant woman. The rights extends to the pregnant woman's partner (including same-sex partner), husband, civil partner, the father or parent of the child, and intended parents in a surrogacy situation who meet specified conditions. In addition a new right is created that allows for unpaid time off work for adopters to attend meetings in advance of a child being placed with them for adoption. The Government has stated that it intends these provisions to come into effect on the 1st October 2014.   

The headline part of the Act is that dealing with shared parental leave.

All women will remain entitled to the current statutory maternity leave and statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance (as per the current provisions). However the mother will have the right to bring her leave and pay to an end early and then share the balance of the remaining leave and pay as shared parental leave and pay, up to a total of 50 weeks leave and 37 weeks pay. The reason for the 50 weeks as opposed to the 52 weeks entitlement to statutory maternity leave is that the law provides for a minimum 2 weeks period of compulsory maternity leave under European Law (which is aimed at ensuring the health of the mother immediately after the birth). Eligible adopters will also be able to use the new system for shared parental leave and pay. 

The Act will also introduce changes to the existing adoption leave and pay regime, extending it to cover prospective parents in the "fostering for adoption" system, and to intended parents in surrogacy arrangements who are elgible and intend to apply for a parental order (an order from the court confirming legal responsibility as parent for a child). Adoption leave and pay will also reflect entitlements available to birth parents from April 2015, such as no qualification period for entitlement to leave and statutory adoption pay being at the level of 90% of salary for the first 6 weeks of the leave period.

The parts on the new right to shared parental leave and pay will come into effect in relation to babies due and children matched or placed for adoption on or after the 5th April 2015.

It is important to note that the new parental leave and pay system is effectively an opt-in system, and the current statutory provisions act as the standard fall back position
. There is little doubt that the relative financial circumstances of each family will largely determine if they take up the new shared parental rights or not. Accuracy of records and thorough record keeping by employers will be essential if the system is to be a success, so that employers of the mother and father can manage these entitlements, particularly where the parents work for different employers. In any event employers will need to amend their policies and procedures to address the requirements of the Act.

At Hallett Employment Law Services we can help you prepare for the changes involved in this legislation and deal with the necessary polices and procedures. If you need assistance do not hesitate to contact us.
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