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27 February 2015

Is your business ‘expecting’ Shared Parental Leave?

The Shared Parental Leave regulations, which came into force in December 2014, will shortly come into play for those parents expecting or adopting babies due on, or after 5th April 2015.

The regulatory change gives flexibility for a new mother to share the entitled statutory leave with her partner if eligible. With the 5th April 2015 getting closer, it would be wise for employers to have policies and procedures in place to address the Shared Parental Leave changes.

Although not all parents will wish to share leave from April – it’s unlikely Prince William and Kate will need flexibility around the Royal baby - it’s important that businesses ensure that their employees understand the new opportunities available for them. Any policies should clarify the rights and rules for employees, such as how to work out how much leave is available to them and the process for applying.  The procedure and notification requirements are complex and vast, so by supplying all of the required information to them, employees won’t be left trying to figure out what they can and can’t do and employers will receive the correct information at the earliest opportunity.

The employee is first required to submit a notice of intention and eligibility or an "Opt in Notice".  This can be submitted at any time, but must be provided no later than 8 weeks before the first date of the proposed Shared Parental Leave period.  At this time, employees are required to give a non-binding indication of their intended dates of Shared Parental Leave.  This is to enable employers to start to plan how to cover their absence.  The Opt In Notice can be accompanied by a formal Period of Leave Notice, or the Period of Leave notice can come at a later date.  Again this must be submitted by the employee no later than eight weeks prior to first date of Shared Parental Leave.  Employees can make no more than three separate Period Of Leave request.  This notice, if accepted is binding and cannot be withdrawn or varied without agreement.  If it is varied, this counts as another one of the employees’ three requests.

Within any Shared Parental Leave policy, businesses should consider developing some standard notification documents that employees can complete. This will assist to simplify the process and means that, when an employee submits either the Opt In Notice or a formal leave request, all the required information is provided.

Employers should also be open to and encourage employees to discuss their intentions early, allowing businesses greater time to plan and act for the employees absence.

Some businesses might choose to have an associated enhanced package with their Shared Parental Leave policy. For those doing so, it’s important to ensure consistency in respect of all benefits and entitlements to minimise the risk of claims of discrimination.

Like any big shift from traditional leave rights, Shared Parental Leave could be susceptible to abuse. The advance exists to enable both partners to be the primary caregiver of the child, but if this isn’t happening or is being taken advantage of, employers might be left needing to take disciplinary action. Business should review and consider whether their disciplinary policies and procedures are equipped to cover such circumstances in place if difficulties do occur.

As an employer, having a Shared Parental Leave policy will be vital to set you ahead of the curve. By establishing a consistent policy with the support of a trusted law firm, your company can embrace the development and be ready for all outcomes.

Hannah King (associate) and Jo Davis (practice group leader) both presented on this subject at yesterday's employment law workshop. Senior HR employees attended from a variety of sectors and local businesses, exploring the practicalities of these new regulations ahead of the deadline.

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