On 29 November last year, the Government published its response to the shared parental leave consultation that was carried out throughout 2013, as covered in our ‘The future of parental leave’ blog post. Subsequently, on 5 March 2014, the Government published three sets of draft regulations concerning the new shared parental leave scheme and how it will operate.
They wants your views…
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said back in November: “We want to create a fairer society that gives parents the flexibility to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth”.
Business Minister, Jo Swinson, supported this, stating: “Thanks to extensive discussions with business and family groups we have found a workable approach to shared parental leave.”
At first reading, whilst the regulations may be ‘workable’ with an intention to provide ‘flexibility’, it would seem that they are particularly complicated both for employers and employees and, as a result, not particularly straight-forward.
The draft Regulations* give one or both parents the possibility of taking shared parental leave. They allow for parents to share up to 52 weeks’ leave (minus any statutory maternity leave already taken by the mother) which can be taken at the same time or separately. The leave is available to employees who have 26 weeks’ continuous service or more.
Employees may request several discontinuous periods of shared parental leave and in those instances employers can agree to the request, propose alternative dates, or refuse the request altogether. Where an employer makes a refusal, the employee is entitled to one continuous period of leave. Rather flexibly, in circumstances where the employer has refused a request, the employee can withdraw the notice which provides, potentially, the opportunity for the other parent to request those dates instead.
The employee may be required to give several different written notices to the employer. Unless simple guidance is given to the employee as to what information needs to be in these notices, it might be difficult for parents to know what to write without detailed working knowledge of the draft Regulations. The draft Regulations also set out terms and conditions during the leave such as other statutory rights, rights on redundancy etc. These are all similar to the current provisions on maternity, paternity and adoption leave.
The Government also said in its response in November that it would increase Keeping In Touch days (KIT days) to a maximum of 20 per employee and that these would be in addition to the 10 KIT days granted during maternity leave. There was also a suggestion that a different term other than ‘KIT days’ would be introduced to avoid confusion – perhaps this would only result in the opposite!
The solution to avoid confusion for employees?
Employers will need to provide comprehensive guidance for employees including forms or examples constituting written notice as per the requirements of the Regulations. Whilst the Regulations reflect much of the current maternity, paternity and adoption procedures, there are nevertheless differences that employees and employers alike will need to be aware of.
A system of shared parental leave is welcomed. However, simplification of the draft Regulations and further guidance as to how they will work for employers and employees will also be welcomed.