Detail of shared parenting announced

The Government has announced the detail of how shared parenting – by which mums and dads can share maternity leave – will work.

The new right to share the 50 weeks of maternity leave after the first two weeks will come in in April 2015. The right has been announced previously, but the initial announcement was followed by a consultation on how it would work in practice.

Employers will have to agree any pattern of leave and will retain the right to say it should be confined to a continuous block.  Those taking leave of six months or less will be entitled to return to the same job, even if that leave is taken in discontinuous blocks.

Parents will have to give employers a non-binding indication of how they plan to share their leave eight weeks before it starts – a similar time frame to that currently used for additional paternity leave. The eight weeks includes two weeks for discussions on plans. They will then be able to change their proposals twice during the year-long leave. Fathers will also get a new right to unpaid leave to attend up to two antenatal appointments. There will also be 10 extra KIT days for each parent in addition to the 10 existing Keep in Touch days. Paternity leave and pay will be aligned, but fathers have to give 15 weeks’ notice before their baby’s due date or, if they are adopting, notice must be given within seven days of a child being matched with them.

The move has been welcomed by groups like Working Families, the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI, although Working Families expressed concern about the notice period required for dads taking paternity leave and that right to return rules were too complex.

Working Families Chief Executive Sarah Jackson said: “Shared Parental Leave will only be a success if we encourage fathers’ engagement from the outset – and that means making it easier to take paternity leave too.  It is also important that the law gives all parents strong rights to return to their jobs after Shared Parental Leave and to protection against discrimination when they take time out to care for families.  The right to return proposals here are complex and confusing and may not give parents the comfort they need to exercise their rights.”

The Valuing Maternity campaign expressed concern that the right to return to the same job would be watered down under the proposals. It said: “This new government announcement proposes that the right to return to the same job is restricted to 26 weeks of maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave in total. Where a parent takes any further leave, even a short block such as a week of leave, their employer can assign them to another job or make changes to their job. These arrangements are complex, unfair and will confuse both parents and their employers. It will punish women who need to take further time off in order to, for example, settle their child into childcare.”

The FSB welcomed the proposals. Its National Chairman John Allan said: “Government has listened to employers and taken significant steps to simplify its proposals for Shared Parental Leave. FSB research has found a third of small firms find the current system to be one of the most difficult and time consuming areas of employment law to comply with. The decision to give each parent a maximum of three opportunities to request leave as opposed to an unlimited number will make the system far more manageable for small businesses, while still maintaining flexibility for parents.”

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said it was developing guidance to help employers deal with the more complex areas of shared parenting. Mike Emmott, Employee Relations Adviser at the CIPD, said: “The proposals will allow mothers and fathers significant flexibility to come up with arrangements for shared parental leave that match their particular circumstances. For [them] to work for the benefit of both employers and employees, it will be essential that parents discuss their preferred pattern of working with their employer in good time, so that employers are able to anticipate what they need to do in response.”

He added that proposals contained in the legislation which is currently before Parliament included extending the use of ‘keep in touch’ days and said that should “offer helpful ways for employers to retain the engagement and commitment of employees, and parents the opportunity to return to work in a flexible way”.

However, the Institute of Directors said shared parenting would be “a nightmare” for bosses due to its complexity. The TUC welcomed the new right, but said without raising pay many couples would not be able to afford it.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said it would “challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home, many fathers want that option too” and added that it would not be a one size fits all approach.

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