Working mums and dads have learnt how the new system of shared parental leave will work for them and their employers, in an announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

In February, the government invited views on how the system for shared parental leave and pay should operate.

The consultation looked at how the new system will work and fit together with current arrangements for maternity and paternity leave and adopters, as part of the government’s commitment to support working families.

The proposals for shared parental leave and flexible working are included in the Children and Families Bill 2013 which is currently going through Parliament. The details will be set out in regulations.

The new leave system will allow eligible working families to have more choice about how they balance their work and caring commitments. Parents can choose to be at home together or to work at different times and share the care of their child.

Businesses will also benefit from being able to have more open discussions about patterns of leave with their employees. In the response to the consultation published 29 November 2013 the government announced that it will:

  • protect mothers who give binding notice to opt into shared parental leave prior to giving birth by introducing a right to revoke the notice up to 6 weeks following birth. This is to make sure that every mother is able to remain on maternity leave, if she chooses to, once she has given birth
  • require employees to give a non-binding indication of when they expect to take their allocated leave when they initially notify their employers of their intention to take shared parental leave. Employees will also be expected to give at least 8 weeks’ notice of any leave they will actually be taking. This is to support businesses in being able to plan their workforce
  • introduce a limit on the number of times a parent can notify the employer to take a period of shared parental leave. The number of notifications will be capped at 3 (the original notification and 2 further notifications or changes). Provision will be made for changes that are mutually agreed between the employer and employee to not count towards this cap. The cap will enable parents to use the leave flexibly but reduce the uncertainty an employer may experience from an unlimited number of notifications
  • set the cut-off point for taking shared parental leave at 52 weeks following birth (or adoption)
  • create a new provision for each parent to have up to 20 days under shared parental leave to support them in returning to work. Parents will be able to use these days to return to work from shared parental leave on a part-time basis for a limited time
  • maintain the right to return to the same job for employees returning from any period of leave that includes maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave that totals 26 weeks or less in aggregate; even if the leave is taken in discontinuous blocks. Any subsequent leave will attract the right to return to the same job, or if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job
  • align the notice periods for leave and pay for a parent taking paternity leave to make the system simpler
  • publish guidance to encourage employees who qualify under the new fostering-for-adoption placement process to give employers as much warning as possible.

Under the government’s proposals, announced in November 2012, the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees who have worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more. Employers are obliged to consider all requests in a reasonable manner.

Ann Pickering, O2’s HR Director, commented: “Today’s move is well-deserved recognition of fathers’ rights and welcome support for women who want the opportunity to combine new motherhood with their careers.

“While it will create logistical challenges for employers, these are by no means insurmountable for big businesses. Employers have a responsibility to provide their people with a supportive work environment, including the flexibility to work in a way that suits them – particularly at such milestone moments. It will, however, be particularly important for Government to work alongside small businesses when this comes into force, to ensure that it remains a positive move for everyone.”

Dominic Holmes, senior associate at international law firm Taylor Vinters: “This proposal will assist in addressing inequality in the workplace and could help women to break through the widely publicised glass ceiling. Gender gaps in terms of salary and career progression are often associated with female employees taking time out to start a family. From April 2015, we may well see more fathers taking extended time off work to allow the mother to return to work earlier, particularly where she is the main earner.  This, in turn, could give female employees more flexibility to achieve their career aspirations, without feeling that they have to compromise a family life in order to fulfil work ambitions.

“Although there will obviously be an impact on businesses of all sizes, more information is needed detailing how this legislation will work in practice, before we can analyse in any detail the wider business implications.”

Nicholas Robertson, Head of Employment at international law firm Mayer Brown: “The policy  of enabling couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave is clearly a good one. The assumption that the father must be the primary breadwinner, and the mother must be the primary carer is increasingly undermined by what we see in the work place. However there is cost and complexity for employers, and the rules have to be clear and easy to apply. It is essential that both employers affected and both parents involved know what is fair, and what their rights and obligations are.”

Jemma Pugh, solicitor at Lester Aldridge LLP: “The shared parental leave provisions will provide more flexibility to new parents. This is the next step in the Government’s vision of the “modern workplace”, with the right to request flexible working and periods of unpaid parental leave already established as options for parents. However, the idea may at first be quite alarming to many employers. Employers should rest assured that they will still retain some control over their employees’ period of absence; employers will have to agree any proposed pattern of time off and will have the right to insist it is confined to a continuous block (although the employee can request two changes to this period). It may even be beneficial to a business where the leave can be arranged to be taken during a quiet period for the business.”