Shared parental leave and pay

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Workplace scenarios

Last Modified  24 March 2015

Legal context

From 5 April 2015, eligible parents (and others with legal responsibility for children) will be able to “share” the 12 months leave which has historically been taken by the mother. Although since 2010 women have been able to return to work prior to the end of the 12 month period and give the balance of their leave and maternity pay to their partner, the major change is that partners can now share the leave by each taking short periods of leave – known as “discontinuous leave”. While employers can refuse discontinuous leave requests, they cannot refuse any other shared leave request.

Scenario 1

  • The employers: A large multi-site manufacturing firm (Beth’s employer) and a local vehicle repair centre (Vince’s employer)
  • The employees: Beth is a Financial Controller. She has worked for her company for three years. Her partner, Vince, is a mechanic and he has worked for his employer for 18 months.
  • The issue: Dealing with a continuous shared parental leave request.

The events

Beth is due to have her first child in three months’ time. Because Beth is the higher earner the couple want her to be able to return to work as soon as possible, and have agreed that they would like Vince to look after the new baby so that Beth can do this.

Beth discusses her plans with her boss. He is delighted that she is planning to be back after a relatively short period, but understands she is not committed to her intentions. She starts her maternity leave four weeks before the baby is due and her initial plan is that she will return when the baby is 13 weeks old.

Vince works in an environment where he feels less able to discuss matters with his boss, Steve. However Steve is aware that Beth is pregnant and asks Vince if he is looking for overtime to supplement their income while Beth is not working. Vince tells him that Beth plans to return to work relatively quickly and that he is intending to stay at home to look after the baby. Steve isn’t very pleased to hear this, but before responding he checks with his HR adviser and finds out that Vince has an entitlement to do this.

Unfortunately, the baby is unwell when first born and Beth decides that she needs to stay at home longer than she had originally planned. After 12 weeks, she and Vince decide that she can return to work. Beth therefore writes to her boss informing him that she intends to return to work in 8 weeks’ time, the required period of notice to end her maternity leave. On the same day, Vince informs Steve, in writing, that he intends to take shared parental leave for the remaining 28 weeks, beginning in 8 weeks’ time. He also states in the same letter that he believes he is entitled to receive Statutory Shared Parental Pay for the first 15 weeks, as this forms the balance of Statutory Maternity Pay that Beth has not received.

Steve checks with his HR adviser. She tells him that Vince is eligible for Statutory Shared Parental Pay based on his service and earnings, and that Vince’s statement that he is eligible for payment for 15 weeks can be accepted at face value. However if Steve wishes, he can request a copy of the birth certificate and contact details for Beth’s employer within 14 days, so that he can check. Steve decides that this is too much effort and so accepts Vince’s request.

After a further period of 12 weeks, Vince and Beth discuss the situation. Beth would like to spend some more time with the baby before he starts nursery. Consequently, Vince informs Steve that he is returning to work in 8 weeks’ time, and Beth advises her boss at the same time that she wishes to take continuous shared parental leave for a period of 8 weeks.

Beth’s boss isn’t very pleased by this and checks whether he has to agree to this, especially as there is an important conference he wants Beth to attend during this period. He is advised by his HR department that he must agree to this request, as Beth is making a request for a continuous period of shared parental leave. However, they suggest that he asks Beth to attend the conference as one of her SPLIT (Shared Parental Leave Keeping in Touch) days. Beth is happy to do so as she can arrange childcare for the day in question.

Scenario 2

  • The employers: A marketing and adverting agency (Ruth’s employer) and a large agricultural business (David’s employer)
  • The employees: Ruth, a senior Client manager who has worked for the company for almost 5 years and her partner David, a Farm manager, who is responsible for maintenance of a large estate. He has been with his company for 10 years
  • The issue: Dealing with a discontinuous shared parental leave request.

The events

Ruth is due to have her baby in just over four months’ time. She and David would like to split the parental responsibilities and believe it can be done to suit both their employers. If she returns around 10 weeks after the baby is born this will coincide with a new product launch she is project managing, and if she then takes a period of leave 6 weeks later this will allow David to oversee the harvest. Once this is over she will return to work for a month, then take a month off, then return for a month to oversee the busy Christmas period, then take a month off and so on until the end of the 12 month period. They also believe it fits well with David’s work as he will be in work when Ruth is off and this coincides with busy times in the farming calendar.

They each discuss it with their respective employers. Ruth’s company think that her proposed work pattern is not ideal but are prepared to accept it as she will be available at key periods. David’s organisation is less keen however. They believe they will have difficulty organising cover for periods he intends not to be around, and as a result, tell him that they will refuse his request (which they are entitled to do).

Ruth and David rethink their plans. Ruth will take her maternity leave until 10 weeks after the baby is born; David will then take a period of 6 weeks continuous shared parental leave and then Ruth will take a further period of continuous shared parental leave, possibly for the remainder of the 12 month period. Both give their employer the appropriate period of notice, and as their request is now for continuous SPL the employers have to accept it.

Note for employers
Both of these scenarios demonstrate that discussion between parties before formal requests are made can often be very helpful in ensuring that a solution is found which accommodates all needs, including those of the employer. As a new area of employment legislation, and one where estimates of likely demand vary, employers will encounter a variety of different requests and it is important that HR professionals are aware of the many potential ways in which individuals can request to take shared parental leave and that they take care to check entitlement to leave and pay, and the type of leave (continuous or discontinuous) the employee is requesting to take.