Statutory maternity leave is unchanged at 52 weeks but mothers have the right to share 50 weeks of this maternity leave with their partner. The new shared parental leave rules aim to give parents greater flexibility and choice as to how they share the care of their new baby.
They have been welcomed by mothers wanting to get back to work more quickly (and fathers who want a more hands-on role with their baby) – but have the potential to cause headaches for employers!
The biggest issue is that employees only have to give eight weeks' notice of their intention to take Shared Parental Leave – and leave can be in blocks of as little as one week at a time.
By way of example, an employee could request to have a block of two months leave; return to work for two months, and then have another block of leave. Whilst each block of leave requires eight weeks' notice, there are potentially huge headaches for small businesses in terms of managing workloads.
To help with this, we recommend you consider incentives to discourage employees from taking discontinuous blocks of leave.
Whilst most employees are going to be open and give their employer much more than the required eight weeks' notice, there is no obligation for them to do so.
So the message is: be prepared and know the rules and requirements.
Get your employment contracts and policies up to date and make sure your payroll team know exactly what is happening. Good employee relations will also clearly help!