HR expert Kate Palmer explores the biggest questions and challenges around shared parental leave.
For working parents, shared parental leave (SPL) aims to raise a toast to equal opportunities. It means that while one parent can take up to 52 weeks off work to spend time with their new child, their partner or co-parent can too.
But whilst SPL was set up to make life easier for new working parents, it’s still not a popular choice. One leading reason is because people don’t really know how it works…
Here are some of the most-asked questions on shared parental leave.
Even though it might make sense for some parents to split the responsibility for childcare after birth or adoption, shared parental leave isn’t an option for everyone. To qualify for shared parental leave, at least one parent must:
Be entitled to maternity or adoption leave (all employees are entitled if they give their employer the right amount of notice before they want it to start. This is at least 15 weeks before the birth for maternity leave and within seven days of receiving a match with a child, if possible).
Be an employee who has worked for at least 26 weeks.
Be employed when they take the leave.
Take leave in the first year after their child is born or placed with them.
If eligible, employees can take shared parental leave whether they’re having a baby, using a surrogate to have a baby, or adopting a child.
Not everyone is eligible for SPL. It’s only for employees. So, someone who classes as a worker or self-employed will not be able to take shared parental leave. However, even if someone isn’t eligible for leave, their partner could still get leave and pay.
Let’s say one parent is employed and the other is self-employed. The self-employed parent isn’t eligible for shared parental leave. However, the employee could still get leave and pay. That’s if their partner ticks the following boxes.
In the 66 weeks leading up to the child’s due date or adoption date, the parent who isn’t taking leave must have worked for at least 26 of those weeks. They must also have earned an average of £30 a week in any 13 of those weeks.
To get shared parental leave, two parents must be responsible for the care of a child. It doesn’t matter what their marital or living status is. Even if two co-parents are separated and not living together, they can both still share parental leave if they meet the eligibility criteria.
SPL must be taken in the first year of a child being born or placed with the family. And for either parent to take shared parental leave, the birth parent or primary adopter has to either:
End their maternity or adoption leave and return to work.
Give their employer notice to cut their maternity or adoption leave short.
That’s because they can only take up to 52 weeks off work. And by law, the birth parent or primary adopter must take at least two weeks for maternity or adoption leave. For factory workers, it’s four weeks.
This gives parents 50 weeks (48 if they’ve taken four weeks of leave already) of shared parental leave they can split between them.
Employees can choose how to take this leave. It can be taken in full or in a maximum of three blocks of short leave.
Parents might choose to both take leave at the same time, or they could alternate blocks so one person takes leave while the other works. Then they could swap.
Alternatively, they can choose to both return to work and take this leave later, as long as it’s before 52 weeks after the birth.
If they both pass the employment and earnings test, both parents can claim shared parental pay (ShPP) for up to 37 weeks.
Unless you offer enhanced shared parental pay, they will get the statutory amount. This would be either £156.66 per week (£172.48 from April 2023) or 90% of their average weekly earnings – whichever is less.
For many families, ShPP is not enough. And if one parent earns more than the other, they’re likely to take a financial hit by swapping their usual pay for ShPP.
This is the main reason why many new parents don’t take SPL and one parent keeps working, while the other stays home with the baby.
This depends on what works best for the business and the employee. Shared parental leave can only be taken on no more than three separate occasions.
It might be more difficult to manage blocks of short leave if you have to keep replacing and covering key employees. So, you can refuse requests for separate blocks of leave if the business will suffer as a result. However, you cannot refuse a request to take shared parental leave in full.
Employers should do their best to support employees who wish to take SPL. This means staying in contact with them through agreed shared parental leave in touch (SPLIT) days. These are selected days where an employee can come into work or you can contact them to keep them updated on work.
While on shared parental leave, the employee’s salary will be reduced to the statutory amount or the enhanced contractual rate if you offer that.
It is against the law to treat an employee unfairly because of shared parental leave. That means you cannot put them at a disadvantage such as reducing their salary when they return, disciplining or preventing them from getting a promotion due to SPL.
It is against the law to dismiss someone because of shared parental leave. Doing so would make the dismissal unfair and leave you at risk of a legal claim.
If jobs are at risk of redundancy, employees on SPL have extra protection, meaning you would have to consult with them ahead of everyone else on a suitable alternative position.
If an employee is made redundant during SPL leave and getting shared parental pay, then they will need to be paid for any remaining time they would have taken leave, unless they start a new job.
Having a work culture that supports parents is vital. When there is still so much gender stigma around shared parental leave, we all have to do our bit to break it.
No one’s career should be in jeopardy because they choose to have children. And employers should be taking steps to support working parents in whatever way they can.
Research has shown that women tend to shoulder the brunt of career setbacks when they become parents. Often, that’s because they feel they have to take on the bulk of responsibility for childcare, so they reduce their hours or take career breaks. Whilst some people may actively want to do this, others may feel they have no choice. And choice is key.
Shared parental leave helps create equal responsibility for childcare, so the bulk of responsibility doesn’t have to fall on one parent.
Employers can make shared parental leave a more viable option for staff by offering enhanced pay. They can also help to provide greater job security for new parents by having strict policies on parental leave.
And ultimately, they can continue to create a workforce that lets staff know they don’t have to make a choice between being a career person or being a parent. They can do both – very successfully.
*Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula which provides HR and health & safety support for small businesses.