Shared parental leave – time to prepare for changes

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If one of your employees is expecting a baby, or adopting a child, on or after the 5 April 2015, he or she could notify you that they would like to share parental leave with their partner.

Eligible parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in the first year of a child’s life or placement, rather than only the mother taking time out of the workplace to spend time with her new baby.  

Understandably for a change of this scale, there have been a lot of different views on, and questions about, how the new rules will work. We’ve also seen a few misconceptions and misunderstandings crop up. In this case, the most common of these relate to concerns about perceived complexity, worries about logistical elements and the finances involved. 

Here we tackle a few of the common concerns that we’ve heard from employers: 

1. I don’t have time to negotiate with other employers

Some employers believe that if an employee wants to take shared parental leave they will have to work closely with the employers of the employee’s partner to fulfil the request. In fact, you only need to liaise with your staff about their leave options – there is no need to deal with the partner’s employer. 

2. It’s going to cost me more than maternity leave

Up to 37 weeks of shared parental pay can be split between the parents after a child’s birth or adoption and before the child’s first birthday or year of placement. But as with statutory maternity pay, shared parental pay will be refunded to employers – you can claim 92% back from the government.

3. It’s too complicated

While the legislation is new, it has been designed to be as flexible and straightforward for both employers and parents as possible. The rules are no more complex than the maternity leave regulations currently in place that serve the three-quarters of a million mums who have babies each year. To help walk both employers and employees through the process, Acas has developed – in consultation with a host of employers, legal firms, family groups and trade unions – a practical, realistic guide to shared parental leave.

4. I can’t afford for workers to take time out

Shared parental leave gives parents the flexibility to choose a pattern of leave that suits their work and family needs. Rather than a new mum taking her maternity leave entitlement, both parents can share that same amount of leave between them. It’s true that this will mean dads are taking more time out of work, but it also means mums can come back to work earlier if they want to. In addition, unlike maternity leave, employees can stop and start shared parental leave and return to work in between, meaning both mums and dads can be back in the workplace for key periods and projects. 

With an estimated 285,000 couples eligible to take advantage of shared parental leave from April, we want to dispel any misconceptions about the changes as early as possible. Research shows that giving employees more control of their working lives can be great for businesses and other organisations.

Through flexible changes such as shared parental leave that allow employees to choose how they balance their careers and family, employers stand to benefit from increased staff loyalty and the ability to attract talented recruits, something it pays to take advantage of.

Tom Neil is a workplace expert on the Acas information and guidance team 

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