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The New Parental Leave rules – what they mean for the workplace

NEW RULES come into force in April 2015, under the Children and Families Bill 2012-13 (‘the Bill’), allowing working mothers to effectively share their maternity leave and pay entitlement with their partners.

Employees will be entitled to share a maximum of 52 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks’ statutory pay upon the birth or adoption of a child. Working mothers will still be required to take the first two weeks of maternity leave for recovery, after which they can split the remaining 50 weeks with their partner.

So how much shared parental pay will employees be able to claim? For the first six weeks the parent on leave will be entitled to receive 90% of their average weekly earnings before tax. For the remaining 33 weeks their pay entitlement will be 90% of their average weekly earnings or the current rate of statutory maternity pay- whichever is lower.

The new rules also impact on paternity rights. Working fathers will still be entitled to take two weeks’ paid paternity leave entitlement immediately after the child’s birth. Notice of paternity leave and pay has been aligned so both must be given by the 15th week before the birth.

For keeping in touch (‘KIT’) days, in addition to the mother’s existing entitlement of ten KIT days, 20 additional KIT style days will be allocated for each parent taking shared parental leave.

Both parents will be required to give their respective employers eight weeks’ notice before beginning shared parental leave.

The required notice can be given before the child’s birth, enabling shared parental leave and pay to begin immediately after the compulsory two-week period of maternity leave. A ‘non-binding’ indication of the expected leave pattern will be required when notifying employers of the intention to take shared parental leave.

If separate blocks of leave are to be taken then 8 weeks’ notice must be given for each leave period. If blocks are to be taken in a discontinuous pattern (e.g. every other month) this will need to be agreed. Employers can reject such a request, suggest changes or insist the employee take the leave in a single continuous block. They cannot refuse leave outright though.

Up to three notifications for leave or changes to periods of leave can be made. Further periods of leave and changes will need to be by agreement.

Are parents legally protected on returning to work after taking leave? Working parents taking a total leave of 26 weeks or less will be entitled to return to the same job. Anyone taking leave of over 26 weeks will have the right to return to the same or a similar job.

The government is currently preparing secondary legislation setting out the detail of how the new rules will work which it intends to publish in draft sometime next year.

Julian Cox is a partner at Fletcher Day, where he heads the employment law team

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