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27th November 2012

Government Announces Proposed Changes to Flexible Parental Leave

On 13 November 2012, as part of its response to the Consultation on Modern Workplaces, the government announced a new system of statutory parental rights to be introduced in 2015. The new system is designed to allow parents to choose how best to balance their work and childcare responsibilities.

Under the proposals parents will be able to share the statutory leave and pay that is currently only available to mothers. Flexible parental leave can either be taken by each parent consecutively, or by both parents concurrently, as long as the combined amount of leave does not exceed the amount which is jointly available to the couple. Similar principles will apply to statutory flexible parental pay, which will be available as an alternative to statutory maternity pay. Additional paternity leave and additional paternity pay will be abolished, and there will be no extension to the current statutory paternity rights. The entitlement to unpaid parental leave will be extended from 13 to 18 weeks for each child from March 2013, and from 2015 each parent will be able to exercise this right for children up to the age of 18.

A new system of shared parental leave

The 52 weeks of maternity leave (39 weeks paid) will remain in place as the default position for all employed women, as will the two week period of compulsory maternity leave, which applies from the day of the child’s birth. However, the new system will allow parents to share between them up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay (i.e. everything other than the initial two-week compulsory period). Where the mother and her partner both meet the qualifying conditions for the flexible parental system, the mother will be able to end her maternity leave, or commit to ending it at a future date, and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as flexible parental leave and pay. The flexible approach will enable mothers to return to work before the end of their maternity leave without sacrificing the rest of the leave.

In terms of eligibility requirements, both parents (or the mother and her partner) will have to meet certain length of service or economic activities tests in order to access the new system. It is believed that these will be as follows:

  • 26 weeks of continuous service with the same employer by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.
  • To have worked for 26 out of the 66 weeks prior to the expected week of childbirth, and to have earned a minimum average specified amount for 13 out of those 66 weeks.

In addition to the above, the employee must be working for the same employer during the whole of the flexible parental leave, regardless of the number of periods of leave. It will therefore not be possible for an employee to change jobs and carry over their flexible parental leave entitlement.

The shared leave can either be taken consecutively or concurrently, as long as the total time taken does not exceed what is jointly available to the couple. A woman will be able to specify in advance that she intends to end her maternity leave and wishes the remaining leave and pay to become available as flexible leave and pay.

Parents should be able to choose to take leave concurrently and decide how much leave each will take. This could include taking small blocks of leave, although the leave must be taken in a minimum of one week blocks.

Employers will not be obliged to agree to the flexible parental leave pattern proposed by employees. Parents wishing to take leave flexibly should discuss their plans informally with their employer as early as possible. The default position, where agreement cannot be reached, will be for a parent’s paid leave to be taken in one continuous block, to start on a date of their choice. The government anticipates that in most cases employers and employees will come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.  However, there will be a further consultation on the administrative details of the system in 2013.

Maternity, paternity and parental pay

The current entitlement to 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay will remain, as will the current eligibility criteria. Fathers and partners who meet the eligibility criteria will remain entitled to two weeks’ ordinary statutory paternity pay. Additional statutory paternity pay will be abolished.

A new statutory payment, “statutory flexible parental pay”, will be made available in 2015 to employed parents who meet similar qualifying conditions as for statutory maternity pay and ordinary statutory paternity pay. This will be an alternative to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for couples who opt in to the flexible parental leave system. It will be paid at the same rate as SMP.

Women who currently receive maternity allowance will continue to be able to do so for 39 weeks if they choose. If they wish to return to work or end their period of claiming maternity allowance, the balance of a notional 52 weeks of leave (less the number of weeks for which maternity allowance has been claimed) will be available as flexible parental leave for the mother and her partner to share if they are eligible and meet the qualifying requirements for leave in their own right.

Unpaid leave for fathers to attend antenatal appointments

This will be limited to significant appointments and taken either by means of a new statutory entitlement or by relaxing the existing system of unpaid parental leave for part of their allowance to be used.

Unpaid parental leave

The amount of unpaid parental leave that can be taken per parent per child will be increased from 13 to 18 weeks on 8 March 2013. Unpaid parental leave will continue to be limited to a maximum of four weeks per year. The existing requirement for one year’s continuous employment before an employee can take unpaid parental leave will be retained. From 2015, each parent will have the right to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child up to the age of 18. There are no changes proposed to the current arrangements regarding notification and time limits on taking leave.

Adoption leave and pay

Statutory adoption leave will become a “day one” right with no qualifying conditions for eligible adopters who are matched with a child. Statutory adoption pay will be enhanced to 90% of the primary adopter’s salary for the first six weeks of the leave period. An adopter who qualifies for statutory adoption leave may end that leave and if both adopters, or the adopter and his or her partner, meet the qualifying criteria, they will become eligible for the flexible parental leave and pay system. Each parent will need to qualify for leave and pay in their own right. The adopters, or adopter and his or her partner, will qualify for statutory flexible parental pay from 2015 if they satisfy the qualifying criteria.

 

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