Shared parental leave: How will it affect your small business?

The new rules surrounding maternity and paternity leave may sound complex, but should small businesses be concerned about it?

With the government’s new shared parental leave coming in to force on December 1 last year, small businesses need to be aware of the HR implications. While the news may be welcomed by parents, there are a number of complicated elements employers need to consider.

HR expert Kirsty Senior shares how the scheme works and what you should look out for as a small business owner.

What exactly is shared parental leave?

For babies due on or after April 5 2015, mothers can now choose to end their maternity leave early and opt for shared parental leave with their partner. Essentially they will take up to a maximum of 50 weeks (of the total 52 weeks) for maternity (or adoption) leave to be shared between them, either at the same time or not.

Who is eligible for shared parental leave?

Staff will only be eligible for this new process if they have 26 weeks of continuous employment with you by the end of the qualifying week – or the 15th week before the child is due.

For their partner, there are also qualifying terms that they must have worked at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the due date (or qualifying week for adoption), and have earned at least an average of £30 per week during 13 of them.

How does it affect pay?

Statutory shared parental pay is the same as statutory maternity pay. Eligible parents will be paid £138.18 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower for up to a maximum of 37 weeks. The only difference is that statutory maternity pay provides the first six weeks at 90% of earnings (so employees may choose to take maternity leave and then switch to shared parental leave).

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What does shared parental leave mean for employers?

It is up to the employees to fill out their own declaration on behalf of themselves and their partners, including all the qualifying information you need.

Employees may request a split period of leave, which they have the right to do (shared parental leave can be taken in up to three separate blocks, as an employer you can refuse more than three split periods of leave).

Employees must give you at least eight weeks’ notice before beginning a block of leave.

How many staff are likely to take shared parental leave?

While it’s very early days, we don’t see that shared parental leave will be something that lots of parents really want to undertake.

In essence it’s simply an extension of a father’s rights to take any ‘leftover’ maternity leave, but in practice we’ve not seen this happen very much at all. The majority of mums (or other primary caregivers) choose to keep all of their leave and enjoy the initial bit of time with their new child.

We have seen more dads (or other partners) reducing hours to take on some childcare, but this is often in the second year after mum returns to work. Therefore it’s not something that I would see as affecting a large number of employers, even if their staff are both eligible for it.

However, while the uptake might not be high, it’s still important to understand the process to ensure you’re prepared if necessary and to reduce the risk of employees taking more leave than they’re entitled to or to prevent your business potentially discriminating against couples that have a right to shared leave.

Kirsty Senior is co-founder and director at citrusHR, an HR support service that offers off and online assistance specially tailored to UK small businesses.

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