Business leaders have branded them a “nightmare”. Politicians say they’ll create a cultural shift in the workplace. What, exactly, are the new rules on shared parental leave policy? And are we really about to see a generation of dads wearing slings instead of suits? Until last week the UK had the most unequal parental leave arrangements in the western world, with new mothers entitled to up to a year off work while employed fathers got just two weeks statutory paternity leave. In 2011 a handful of dads were given more time with their babies, but only once the new arrival was over five months old and only if mum went back to work. This all changed on Easter Sunday as additional paternity leave made way for shared parental leave. Now, after two weeks of compulsory maternity leave, new parents have 50 weeks to split between them in any way they wish.
Key changes in shared parental leave policy:
- Fathers’ (or mothers’ partners) can take up to 50 weeks of leave – useful for families in which mum is the higher earner.
- Couples can take all or part of the leave simultaneously.
- Each parent may take up to three separate blocks of leave – so either one could return to work for a particular project, or to help with a seasonal increase in workload.
- Both parents need to be working, but only one has to be an employee. By the 15th week before their baby is due, one parent must have been continuously employed for six months. The other could be in a new job or self-employed as long as they meet the “employment and earnings test” (basically, working full- or part-time for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the due date).
- Each parent on SPL may work up to 20 Shared Parental Leave in Touch (SPLIT) days. These are optional and paid at the employee’s usual rate.
The new shared parental leave policy applies to couples who are adopting, in a same-sex partnership, or bringing up a baby from a previous relationship, as well as to birth parents. The right to six weeks’ leave at 90% of full earnings remains exclusively for birth mothers and primary adopters, so it’s unlikely many mums will be handing their new-born to dad and dashing back to their desk after a fortnight. There is no legal requirement for firms to match their shared parental leave benefits to any enhanced maternity benefits they offer.