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Hands up – Who knows the difference between parental leave and shared parental leave?
The government has confirmed its proposals to introduce shared parental leave (SPL) for new mothers and fathers from April 2015. This should not be confused with the right some employees have to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks to care for a child. That right will continue alongside the new scheme although it is due to be extended to working parents of children aged under 18 years rather than under 5 as it is now.

Under the plans, the first two weeks of leave after the birth of a child will be reserved for the mother, but the remaining 50 weeks can be shared between the mother and father until the child’s first birthday and will not have to be taken in one continuous block.

There will however, be a three-time limit on the number of occasions a parent can notify their employer that they will be taking a period of shared parental leave or of changes to their plans.

Employees will also be expected to give at least eight weeks’ notice to opt in to the SPL system and of any blocks of leave they wish to take. However, when a couple first opt-in to the system, they will have to tell their employers how they are intending to use their leave. Although this notification will not be binding, this will give employers an earlier indication than was initially proposed of how and when leave will be taken.

Either parent will have the right to return to the same job if they take a total of 26 weeks’ leave or less even if this is taken in discontinuous blocks. Parents will also be entitled to 20 ‘keeping in touch-style’ days each while on shared parental leave.

Currently, new parents are able to share some of the existing 52 weeks' maternity leave, with the father able to take up to six months off after the baby is 20 weeks old (known as additional paternity leave) but only if the mother has returned to work.

Although the government has restricted the number of periods of leave, this is likely to cause planning headaches for employers. With the current system, you have one lengthy period that you can plan to cover - for example by someone on a fixed-term appointment. With the new system you may have to chop and change the arrangements up to three times in a year – not the simplification of legislation that the government had promised when it came to power! It remains to be seen how this the new shared parental leave arrangements are going to work in practice.
Posted on 19 Nov 2016

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