The equalities minister, Jo Swinson, has announced that from April 2015 parents will be entitled to share a year of parental leave following the birth of a child.
In a bid to change work place culture and prevent conflicts between work and family life, parents will be able to share the 50 weeks parental leave (two weeks are reserved for the mother for her recovery after the birth), on the basis that they provide their employer with a detailed breakdown of how they propose sharing their leave eight weeks before it is due to start.
Employers will have to agree to the parents proposed patterns of leave and they also have the right to insist that the leave is restricted to a continuous block. Whilst it was initially thought that parents would have to stick to their original proposal, it has now been announced that they will be entitled to change their proposal twice throughout the leave period.
Parents will only be entitled to return to the same job if they take less than six months leave, anyone who takes longer will return to a similar role but not necessarily the identical role they left.
An additional right for expectant fathers has also been revealed; as part of the new plans they will be entitled to unpaid leave to attend up to two antenatal appointments. At present, fathers and partners do not have a legal right to accompany their pregnant spouse or partner to antenatal appointments.
The new plans intend to provide further equality and also allow more flexibility than that enjoyed under the current regime. Under the existing paternity leave rules, eligible employees are permitted to take one whole week or two consecutive weeks ordinary paternity leave (“OPL”) within 56 days of a child’s birth or placement for adoption. The rules governing the minimum statutory entitlement to additional paternity leave (“APL”) state that one period of APL may be taken in multiples of complete weeks and may last between two and 26 weeks. The period of APL must be taken within a window starting 20 weeks after the child’s birth or placement for adoption and ends 12 months after this date. The APL is also conditional upon the employee’s partner, spouse or civil partner having returned to work from their statutory maternity or adoption leave.
The new plans have been welcomed by some groups who believe that the process has now been simplified and consequently, will become more manageable. However others have suggested that it will be impossible for smaller employers to keep abreast of shared patterns particularly when it comes to organising split maternity and paternity cover.