Tom Neil ACAS guidance writer tells SME about what businesses need to do to comply
A recent change to employment law is the right to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL). Working mums and dads with children that were due after 5 April 2015 may be eligible to share up to 50 weeks of leave.
It was estimated that between 2-8% of expectant parents will use the new Shared Parental Leave entitlement in 2015-16. This percentage might seem small, and actual take up may exceed this, but whatever the volume, it’s important that small businesses understand the new rules.
So what's it all about? The aim of Shared Parental Leave is to move away from an assumption that mothers will automatically be the parent taking leave from work in order to take on the caring role. Shared Parental Leave allows both parents to decide what care arrangements suit their circumstances best. Just how quickly families begin to actively think about dividing their caring responsibilities is going to be interesting to see, but given these valuable new flexibilities, it's difficult to see it as anything other than a reasonable option to consider.
One of the main concerns regarding the introduction of Shared Parental Leave has been its perceived complexity. I must admit that after my first reading of the regulations I was left searching for some aspirin. However, a similar headache was felt the first time I read the maternity regulations and really Shared Parental Leave is no more complex.
The obvious advantage to learning about maternity rights in the current environment is the availability of guides and further information. I am therefore pleased that Acas’ good practice guide on Shared Parental Leave helps to dispel some of the concerns raised so far.
Key points of guidance include:
- Qualifying mothers and adopters continue to be entitled to Maternity and Adoption rights but they may be able to choose to end this early and turn any remaining weeks in to Shared Parental Leave and Pay. They and their named partner will then need to decide how they want to share this new entitlement.
- Two weeks of paid Paternity Leave continues to be available to qualifying fathers and the partner of a mother or adopter. However, Shared Parental Leave has replaced the Additional Paternity Leave entitlement.
- Having early informal conversations with an employee who may take Shared Parental Leave can give an employer an indication of what leave arrangements may be taken and allow them to begin to plan accordingly.
- An employee can either book to take a period of continuous leave or can request a period of discontinuous leave. An employer may refuse a request for discontinuous leave and require their employee to take the leave requested as one continuous period instead.
- An employee must not suffer any detrimental treatment or be dismissed because of taking or asking to take Shared Parental Leave.
The guidance was developed in consultation with a whole host of employers, legal firms, family groups and trade unions including BIS, EEF, Working Families and the TUC. We decided early on that seeking views from across the employment arena was going to be beneficial in ensuring the guidance was practical and realistic from the perspective of both employers and employees.
The introduction of any new employment right could lead to conflict unless it is handled well. If employees and employers approach Shared Parental Leave in a constructive and open manner and have those essential discussions as early as possible then this will help to avoid any misunderstandings and surprises. The working relationship should then remain positive and could in fact become even stronger.
Acas guidance ‘Shared Parental Leave: a good practice guide for employers and employees’ is available at www.acas.org.uk/spl