Parental Leave - The Current Position
Parents of children under the age of five each have the right to take up to thirteen weeks unpaid parental leave between the child's birth and their fifth birthday. Adoptive parents are each entitled to thirteen weeks unpaid parental leave until the fifth anniversary of the adoption, or until the child's eighteenth birthday, whichever comes first. Parents of disabled children are entitled to up to eighteen weeks unpaid parental leave to be taken up to the child's eighteenth birthday. The right only applies to employees who have been employed for at least one year.
Parental Leave - The Changes
In November 2012, the Government published its response to the proposals for a new flexible parental leave system following the Modern Workplaces consultation that ended in August 2011.
In the response, the Government commented that it needs to create a new system of parental leave that will work for modern lives and will respect a family's right to choose how to care for their child and that it is committed to becoming the most family friendly Government in the world.
Unpaid Parental Leave
In March 2013, unpaid parental leave will increase from thirteen to eighteen weeks. From 2015, each parent will have the right to up to eighteen weeks unpaid parental leave for each child under eighteen.
A new system of paid shared parental leave
From 2015, parents will be able to share between them up to fifty weeks of parental leave.
Maternity leave, currently 52 weeks will stay as the default position for all employed women. Women who are currently eligible to receive statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance will continue to be able to do so.
However, where the mother and her partner (husband, civil partner or partner, including same sex) meet certain qualifying criteria, the mother will be able to choose to stop her maternity leave and pay, or commit to ending it at a future date, and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as flexible parental leave and pay with her partner.
Flexible parental leave will not be able to exceed the balance of untaken maternity leave, and the amount of statutory flexible parental pay will not exceed the balance of untaken statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance available when the woman returns or commits to return to work.
The new system will allow mothers to return to work before their maternity leave ends and she will not lose the remainder of her leave as her partner can take it.
I believe that giving parents the opportunity to 'mix and match' their leave will give them greater flexibility with regards to child care arrangements and managing competing work and domestic responsibilities. Having greater flexibility could also benefit employers, by enabling them to make the most of their entire talent pool, help them attract and retain women and prevent women leaving work following childbirth.
However, calculating how much remaining leave and pay can be shared is likely to cause problems for employers, in addition to other issues that may arise such as how parents are going to verify what leave has been taken, how employers are going to monitor the leave and prevent fraudulent claims.
We shall therefore have to wait to see what, if any, solutions the Government puts forward to minimise such problems when it launches a consultation early next year to consider the detail of how the new system is going to work.
Lynda Spiby (pictured), head of employment at solicitors, Boote Edgar Esterkin