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What exactly is Shared Parental Leave?

Posted on 02 April 2015

From the 1st April Shared Parental Leave will become a right for every UK worker. It is the most significant shift towards family-friendly employment rights in many years and should make it easier for both parents to take leave in the early stages of a child’s life and in a more flexible way.

Historically the UK’s approach to family leave has been gender specific and inflexible. Mothers were allowed up to 52 weeks maternity leave taken as a single continuous block and fathers got two weeks of paternity leave, in the first eight weeks of a child’s life.

Why does it matter?

Imagine a life where both parents equally share childcare and work.  Fathers spend more time with their children than their own fathers without the pressure of losing pay; mothers maintain a career without having to agonise over who cares for their baby.

This is what Shared Parental Leave is all about.

Shared Parental Leave will add a new level of flexibility and choice to maternity and paternity arrangements.

It is designed to allow men and women to balance the needs of their career with the desire to look after their children. This is seen as critical to getting more women into senior positions in organisations and addressing the gender imbalance.

Will anyone be interested?

Research from the charity Working Families, found that while the majority (47%) of fathers drop their children off to school most days, almost the same number would like to be more involved with childcare but do not think the culture at their place of work supports this.

Shared Parental Leave will meet the latent demand from men to look after their children and force a universal change in the way employers approach the role of men in childcare.

The small print – what you need to know

Despite the impending implementation of the new rules, research shows that nearly three quarters of parents do not understand what the changed rules will mean.

A common misconception is that Shared Parental Leave will let fathers share maternity leave 50/50.

This isn’t the case. In fact parents will be allowed to split up to 50 weeks off work after having a baby or adopting.  Mothers must take the first two weeks.  It will however, be possible to transfer the remaining maternity leave to the father or, in theory, share it.  In practise, the right will only be available to couples if both work, which critics say rules out many parents

Qualifying for leave is a two-stage test.  Stage one is a “joint” test.  An employee will qualify only if the other parent meets the minimum work and earnings conditions.  If the employee’s partner satisfies the joint test the employee has to qualify for leave individually i.e. have 26 weeks service at the 15th week before the child’s expected due date.

An eligible employee can; take the rest of their 52 weeks leave, up to a maximum of 50 weeks, as Shared Parental Leave, take the rest of the 39 weeks of pay or Maternity Allowance, up to a maximum of 37 weeks, as Statutory Shared Parental Pay.

Where to find out more

Here are two guides worth checking out:

ACAS:  Shared Parental Leave: a good practice guide for employers and employees.

Gov.UK: Shared Parental Leave and Pay

But for specific guidance about how Shared Parental Leave, talk to your HR team.