Throughout Northern Ireland working parents have started to exercise their new entitlements to enjoy shared parental leave and shared parental pay. Whilst some employers have reacted to these changes, many are yet to develop plans to ensure their business can cope with the additional choices available to employees with children.
Those with specific parental responsibility (whether birth or adoption), have a pool of shared parental leave (SPL), and shared parental pay (ShPP), that they can utilise. This ‘shared parental leave and pay’ is not in any way a replacement of the underlying statutory provisions for maternity or adoption, but has run alongside those provisions since April 2015, adding choice and flexibility of benefits. Statutory paternity pay and leave is unaffected.
In practice, an eligible mother or adopter may now choose to reduce their maternity/adoption leave and opt into SPL. The remaining leave will be available as SPL and the remaining weeks of pay will be available as ShPP. Partners, if eligible for SPL, can share the remaining leave. For example, a partner could begin to take SPL while a mother is still on maternity/adoption leave.
The eligibility criteria are a little complex. To qualify for shared parental leave (SPL), an employee must share the care of the child with either a husband, wife, civil partner or joint adopter, the child’s other parent, or a partner. In addition, the employee must have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date, and be employed by the same employer while you take SPL.
In the case of the partner, they become eligible if during the 66 weeks before the baby is due the partner has been working for at least 26 weeks in total and earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of the 66 weeks.
Although shared parental leave and pay has been around for over a year, the uptake remains low in Northern Ireland and beyond. As awareness grows, it will forever change the landscape for employers. As a first step, employers should consider a review of employee terms and conditions, the introduction of new policies and a briefing for finance/payroll staff on new procedures to be applied.
To potentially complicate matters further, the then Chancellor George Osborne indicated his intention to extend the measure to include working grandparents. The consultation for this measure is scheduled, with legislation planned for 2018. If enacted this will be another change for employers to adopt and embrace.
At a strategic level, employers will need to plan for, and to accommodate, additional absences in the normal course of business.