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Shared Parental Leave

You may have seen widespread press coverage today (29 November) about the government's proposals to radically change the system of maternity leave.  The proposals are not in fact new proposals, all that has been announced today are more details of the proposals which have now been thrashed out in discussions between Lib Dems and Conservatives.

What the government proposes is that, from April 2015 onwards, the current system of maternity leave will change to the following:

  • 2 weeks' compulsory maternity leave immediately post-birth/post-adoption for the mother; and
  • 50 weeks' flexible leave that can be shared by both parents, including the ability for both parents to take leave concurrently.

The proposals will shift the focus on care in the first year of a child's life/first year post-adoption from primarily the mother onto the child.

As ever the key to the success of these proposals will be the detail.  The government has indicated that couples will need to give their employers 8 weeks' notice of what their preferred shared leave arrangements will be in order to give the employers ample time to plan accordingly.  Couples will, again with notice to their employer, be able to make up to two changes to their leave arrangements during the leave period.

The arrangements will not be compulsory.  Employers will have to agree any proposed pattern of time off and will also be able to insist that any leave is taken in a continuous block. 

Systems of shared leave like this are not uncommon in other parts of Europe and work well, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any significant take up by fathers here.  The government hopes that many more fathers will take a far more proactive involvement in the period immediately after birth/adoption than is presently the case.  The Institute of Directors have criticised the proposals as potentially creating a "nightmare" for smaller firms, whilst other groups including the Federation of Small Businesses and the JUC are broadly supportive.  It is likely that these changes will cause some initial difficulties for employers.  However, an indirect benefit may be to reduce cases of maternity discrimination against women.

From an employment law perspective we can foresee potential risks arising for employers who provide enhanced maternity pay schemes as male employees could argue that these should be extended to them to allow them to take some of their shared leave entitlement.  Whether such claims would have any merit really depends on the detail behind the government's proposals.

If you want to know any more about this or any other employment law matter then please contact our head of employment, Paul Ball on 0113 246 2312.

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