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9th December, 2013

Parental Leave

On Friday 29 November 2013, when announcing the upcoming changes to parental leave, Nick Clegg said that “women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby”.

As such, the changes to parental leave are, in his opinion, required to ensure that women are supported by their employers and able to further their careers, without having the difficult choice between a career or a family life.

Furthermore, the deputy prime minister went on to say that “we need to challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home”. Not only does a woman deserve the right to a successful career, but a father should be entitled to be the primary carer to his child in the first year following birth.

For the above reasons, the changes to parental leave will allow parents the flexibility to decide between themselves how to share care for their child and maintain their employment standing.

Among the proposals in the Children and Families Bill 2012 – 2013 one of the key changes to be implemented is the extension of the right to request flexible working.

The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees who have been employed for a period of 26 weeks or more, irrespective of the size of the employer. The employer will then be under a duty to reasonably consider the request within a reasonable period.

Employees will be entitled to make one request for flexible working in any 12 month period, although failure by the employee to attend two consecutive meetings to discuss a request will result in their request being automatically withdrawn.

Acas are also stepping in to publish a code on how to deal with flexible working requests which will recommend that employers arrange a meeting with the employee as soon as possible to discuss the request, allow the employee to be accompanied to the meeting and approach requests flexibly from a presumption that they will be granted.

Arguably the most important change to parental leave will be the introduction of flexible parental leave and flexible parental pay.

This will allow parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave between them. This is excluding the compulsory two weeks maternity leave to be taken by the mother immediately following birth. It will be at the parents’ discretion to decide how they take their leave and whether it is to be taken consecutively or concurrently.

Fathers will be entitled to (unpaid) leave to attend up to two antenatal appointments. The current additional paternity leave will be abolished as its purpose will already be covered by flexible parental leave.

In terms of how flexible parental leave will be paid, the right will remain with employed mothers who are entitled to 39 weeks paid leave, of which 37 weeks can be taken through flexible parental leave. The same eligibility criteria of statutory maternity pay will apply.

In addition, adoptive parents who are matched with a child will be entitled to flexible parental leave as a “day one” right without any qualifying conditions and intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement will be offered all of the above rights, including allowing both intended parents (unpaid) leave for up to two antenatal appointments.

The main body of the changes to parental leave provide for advantages to employees but there are also requirements to be put in place to ensure that employers can maintain continuity of their business whilst offering their employees greater flexibility.

There will be a restriction on the number of times an employee can change their plans for taking parental leave through an allowance of three changes (including the original notification of intention to take parental leave). This will mean that the employer will be under no duty to accept changes suggested by the employee when they have already exhausted their allowance.

Employees will also be required to provide a non-binding indication of their expected pattern of leave as part of their original notification of intention to take flexible parental leave in order for employers to effectively plan business arrangements around the employee’s leave.

Both parents will have 20 “keeping in touch” days which will be differentiated from the ten days already included in maternity leave.

In modern day Britain, there is no “one size fits all approach” to managing parental leave and it is important that families are able to tailor their rights to their individual circumstances. Many businesses already recognise that employees are more productive and motivated when they are able to work flexibly to build their talent and experience while remaining committed to their family life. With the new parental leave provision, it is hoped that this opinion will be shared by many more employers. Ultimately a more productive and motivated employee provides a significant boost for our economy.

The legislative requirements for shared parental leave and pay are within the Children and Families Bill 2012 – 2013 which first entered Parliament on 4 February 2013. On 20 November 2013 the passage was completed in the House of Lords.

The changes are expected to come into force in early 2015 and as such, in its response to the consultation, the government has said that they are preparing the secondary legislation with a view to publishing a draft before the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Although the changes are not yet in force, it is important to be aware of your rights now and your rights in the near future in relation to planning and taking parental leave to ensure that you utilise the best option open to you and your family.

For further information and advice in relation to parental leave, please contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or send an email to [email protected].

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