This month new rules come into force with regard to Shared Parental Leave – one of the biggest changes to employment law for some years. The changes affect all businesses that employ parents, regardless of the size of business and present both an opportunity as well as a hurdle to overcome.
Historically, mothers have been entitled to Maternity Leave of up to 52 weeks following the birth or adoption of a child, with fathers entitled to 2 weeks Paternity Leave. In 2011 changes were made to allow fathers the right to extended Paternity Leave, called Additional Paternity Leave. For all babies due or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015 the new Shared Parental Leave rules now apply which means that most couples who are in paid work and bringing up a child together can share the leave following the birth or adoption of their child.
The rights apply to parents in work, including those who are adopting, same-sex couples, co-habiting couples and couples bringing up a child together even if the baby is from a previous relationship. Parents can take leave in their child's first year at different times, or take leave at the same time. On the one hand, this presents a real challenge for businesses, with all parents now having legal rights to choose how to share and take the 50 weeks of leave. On the other, the new rules provide greater flexibility for parents and employers to work together and in some cases allow mothers to return to work earlier than they might have done, to cover key trading periods or holidays, without losing benefits or having to end their leave.
The changes do mean that Maternity and Paternity policies now need to be reviewed and addressed to ensure parents are being treated equally where appropriate and that neither parent is being discriminated against by historical polices that may have offered Enhanced Maternity Pay. There is help available for employers trying to understand the new rules through the government website www.gov.uk as well as www.acas.org.uk which has a guide for both employers and employees.
Outsourcing could be a good way to manage when employees are off on Shared Parental Leave, or an alternative to taking on part time staff and could be much more flexible and affordable than you think.
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