Shared parental leave (SPL) came into effect in 2015. It’s a legal entitlement designed to give eligible parents of newly born or adopted children greater flexibility over how they can manage care of the child in the first year. The leave entitlement also applies in the first year after getting a parental order if they’ve had the child via a surrogate. In total, parents are able to have up to 52 weeks of leave time: the 2 initial weeks of maternity/adoption leave (the birth parent must by law take at least 2 weeks’ maternity leave or 4 weeks if they work in a factory) and then 50 weeks of shared parental leave.
What are the rules around eligibility for shared parental leave?
The rights apply to parents in work, including those who are adopting, same sex couples, co-habiting couples, and couples bringing up a child together even if the baby is from a previous relationship. To take SPL, one parent must have been an employee with at least 26 weeks’ service with the same employer by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due, or when matched with an adopted child. The other must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the due date and have earned at least £30 a week in any 13 of those 66 weeks.
Eligible parents can get up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave and 37 weeks of shared parental pay (ShPP) between them. The specific amount of both SPL and ShPP will depend on how much maternity entitlement the birth parent takes, or the amount of adoption entitlement taken by the primary adopter. At the moment shared parental pay is £151.97 a week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. The amount doesn’t increase if more than one child is born or adopted.
An eligibility checker tool is available on the Gov.UK website.
How can shared parental leave be taken?
Shared parental leave can be used in various ways. The birth parent or primary adopter might decide they wish to return to work on an ongoing basis, so their partner takes leave instead. Or the birth parent/ primary adopter might return to work for a period but then takes more SPL later on. It’s also acceptable for both parents to be off at the same time, or share out the SPL so they alternate taking their leave. They can even both choose to work initially, and then opt to take the leave later on.
Shared parental leave needs to be booked in blocks of weeks, but those weeks can start on any day. Employees need to provide 8 weeks’ notice of when they want to book some leave and it can be taken as either what’s known as ‘continuous’ or ‘discontinuous’ leave.
Continuous leave allows a parent to take up to 3 blocks of shared parental leave. The employer must agree to a continuous leave notice. Discontinuous leave can be requested if a parent prefers to take several blocks of SPL on and off during the twelve-month period. It can be more disruptive for the employer, however, so they’re not obliged to agree to it if it’s going to cause them problems.
Each eligible parent legally has the right to change the dates of the shared parental leave they have already booked up to 3 times, although employers can agree to further changes if they wish.
What needs to be considered by the parents-to-be?
It’s always best for employees and employers to set up good channels of communication to discuss ways that the leave arrangements can be organised to work as successfully and smoothly as possible.
There are various considerations to explore with employees deciding whether to take SPL or not. Clearly, the first is whether both parents qualify. But once it’s confirmed that’s the case, other points to consider include:
- Is the birth parent/ primary adopter prepared to reduce their maternity/adoption leave?
- Is there a contractual entitlement to enhanced maternity/adoption/paternity/SPL pay and would reducing the maternity/adoption leave have an impact on this?
- What are the wider practical financial implications for families: shorter term, how will household income be affected, and longer term, what are the pension implications?
Holiday entitlement will continue to accrue during these leave periods, so that can also be used as a way to have additional paid time off.
What are the benefits of shared parental leave?
The primary aim of shared parental leave is to help parents find a better balance between their employment and managing their caring responsibilities. The flexibility it offers gives more scope for couples to make arrangements that best suit their own particular set of circumstances.
But there are other factors. Part of the driver behind the legislation was to address gender disparities, and the impact that taking time off could have on the mother from a career progression and pay perspective. Additionally, fathers who take leave are more likely to take an active role in childcare: studies have shown that fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long after the period of leave has ended.
Research from the University of Oslo found an association between paternity leave levels and improved children’s performances at secondary school. So while shared parental leave can offer parents more flexibility and choice in the short term, it also has other longer lasting benefits too.
Shared parental leave can be complex however
On the less positive side, however, is the fact that the parental leave system can be complex to navigate from both the parents’ and employer’s perspective in operational terms and also in terms of making sure all payments are made correctly. The Government has been gathering information to evaluate the current system and is looking at possible changes to improve it.
Further information about current shared parental leave arrangements can be found on the Government’s website. If you need further support with managing the payroll side of shared parental leave, or any other aspect of your payroll, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to discuss how we can help you.