Shared Parental Leave is still relatively a new concept, one you don’t often hear about unless you are in HR circles, but it has been in place for a good couple of years now, so what exactly is it and why is it still relatively unheard of?

In April 2015, the UK brought in new rules for parents taking leave after the birth or adoption of their child.  A flexible and equal approach to allow both parents to assist (and enjoy) childcare with a legal right to return to work policy providing families with a new way to manage ‘maternity leave’. Welcomed by many, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was the beacon of hope for working women everywhere who wanted the flexibility to share the demand of a newborn with their partner.

However, many businesses and employees worry about the complexity it brings to workforce planning, and statistics show that the uptake of fathers requesting SPL is low.

According to the CIPD’s People Management blog just over 7000 men requested Shared Parental Pay in 2016/2017, yet 221,000 men received statutory paternity pay.

Rachel Suff, Employee Relations Adviser at the CIPD says “The intentions were right, and on paper it gives new parents much more choice and flexibility about taking leave to look after a new baby, particularly if the mother is the higher earner and dads want to play a bigger role in their child’s early life.

“However, the complexity of the rules and the financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks are clearly outweighing these positives in reality for many.”

Is Shared Parental Leave Confusing? Let’s take a look at the top FAQs businesses ask on SPL;

Shared Parental Leave – The Top 10 FAQs

1) Is it Employment Law?

Yes, as from April 2015, all parents of babies born or adopted after this date are legally entitled to seek Shared Parental Leave if they meet certain criteria.

2) Does it change existing Statutory Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave policies?

No, Shared Parental Leave hasn’t replaced the Statutory Maternity Leave and Pay policy, it complements it. Working mothers-to-be can now decide whether they would like to swap some of their maternity leave for Shared Parental Leave and allow their partner to get involved with the childcare.

Couples will not get more leave or pay when combining childcare and pursuing SPL.

Read our blog on What’s the Difference between Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance for details on existing policies in place.

3) Can either parent request Shared Parental Leave?

No, It is the decision of the mother (or main adopter). Although Shared Parental Leave suggests a shared decision, it is up to the mother whether she decides to ‘share’ parental leave or pursue full statutory maternity leave.

If the mother (or main adopter) wishes to pursue Shared Parental Leave, then both parents will need to mutually agree who takes what and when. Unless she has signed a declaration of the division of leave, SPL cannot be taken.

4) Who is eligible for Shared Parental Leave?

This is where it gets confusing. Each parent qualifies separately, therefore if your employee doesn’t meet the strict eligibility set out by the Government, you do not have to agree to SPL just because their partner qualifies.

  • SPL and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) must be taken between the baby’s birth and first birthday (or within one year of adoption).
  • Employees must always give 8 weeks’ notice to return from maternity leave (except at the end of the 52 weeks) or take SPL.

To qualify for Shared Parental Leave (SPL), your employee must share care of the child with either:

  • their husband, wife, civil partner or joint adopter
  • the child’s other parent
  • their partner (if they live with them and the child)

They must also:

  • have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date (or by the date they are matched with their adopted child)
  • be employed by the same employer while taking SPL

Their partner’s eligibility

During the 66 weeks before the baby is due their partner must have:

  • been working for at least 26 weeks (they don’t need to be in a row)
  • earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of the 66 weeks

They can be employed, self-employed or an agency worker.

Sometimes only one parent in a couple is eligible to get Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP).

5) When does Shared Parental Leave start?

It is not an automatic process like Statutory Maternity Leave.  Mothers are required to give notice of their intentions to end their Statutory Maternity Leave and give notice of when Shared Parental Leave will begin. However, the partner can begin SPL while the mother is still on Maternity Leave. Examples of this can be found on the Government’s website for Shared Parental Leave

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6) What notice period is in place?

Employees wishing to take SPL must give at least 8 weeks’ notice of any leave they would like to take. If the child is born prematurely, shorter notice periods can be agreed.

7) How can Shared Parental Leave be divided?

Shared Parental Leave can be divided into blocks of leave. Your employee has a statutory right to a maximum of 3 separate blocks of leave, instead of taking it all in one go. Blocks can be taken as a minimum of a week at a time and alternate weeks.

If both parents are taking SPL, then they can take their leave at the same time as each other or at different times.

You can’t turn down a request for a block of leave if the employee is eligible and gives you the right notice. You don’t have to agree to the employee breaking the block of leave into shorter periods.

Similarly to KIT days, employees can work through SPL using SPLIT days (‘shared parental leave in touch‘) and can use 20 of these over the SPL period, which could allow parents to work part time over SPL.

8) What is the process for Shared Parental Pay (ShPP)?

Employers pay parents on Shared Parental Leave ShPP and can reclaim 92% from the Government.

9) How much is Shared Parental Pay?

The weekly rate of ShPP is the lower of:

  • The “prescribed rate” (currently £138.18)
  • 90% of the normal weekly earnings of the person claiming ShPP

The difference between Statutory Maternity Pay and ShPP is therefore that the latter is capped at a statutory amount for every week for which a parent claims ShPP, while SMP is payable at 90% of actual salary (with no cap) for the first six weeks of maternity leave. This means that most mothers will take maternity leave and pay for at least six weeks to take advantage of the higher rate.

10) How do I record Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) for tax reasons?

You will need to keep detailed records of all SPP periods for at least three years. This includes evidence provided by the employee to show that they’re eligible for ShPP. The date it began, the amount of pay you reclaimed and any weeks you didn’t pay and why.

How to manage a Shared Parental Leave Request

1)Be prepared. Once your employee has advised you, they are expecting a baby, have a conversation early on to discuss leave intentions and whether SPL has been considered by the couple.

2)If and when your employee asks for more details on SPL and whether they are eligible, discuss notification periods and partner eligibility early on and make plans around suitable cover.

3)Consider the impact of a leave booking.  Especially if you are the employer of the non-pregnant partner, and review workloads, work patterns and available cover,  Discuss this with the parent to ensure all leave booking is given sufficiently to plan ahead.

4)The outcome, once your employee has effectively communicated their Shared Parental Leave intentions, made the leave booking and meets eligibility, you will need to confirm in writing and plan for their leave.

Planning for Shared Parental Leave could be made easier by using a cloud-based HRIS tool.

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Kelly Ruston