On 29 November the Government published its proposals for parental leave to become much more flexible from 2015.
The introduction of shared parental leave should not be confused with the limited right to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks to care for a child. That right will continue alongside the new scheme though it will be extended to working parents of children under 18 rather than under five years of age as it is now.
The new shared parental leave scheme will allow eligible mothers and their partners to share the rights to take up to 52 weeks leave in order to care for a child. Eligible couples could also share the 39 weeks entitlement to parental pay.
Under the new scheme a couple will be able to take the leave together; the mother could return to work after compulsory maternity leave and allow her partner to take the balance of leave, or the couple could take the leave in turns. The only restriction is that the mother will have to take a compulsory two week maternity leave period immediately following the birth.
The changes are seen as particularly attractive to families where the mother is in a higher paid job than the father.
However the extent of the disruption to business is the key question. Employees will have to give eight weeks advance notice to their employers of their intention to opt into the shared parental system and give the same notice as to their planned leave. Employers will have to make cover arrangements in that period of time.
Also of practical importance will be the question of whether employers who offer enhanced maternity leave and pay will have to offer the same benefits to fathers?
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