A new report by the CIPD has found that, on average, only 5 per cent of fathers and 8 per cent of mothers have opted in to shared parental leave since it was introduced in April 2015. The report highlights the complexity of the rules and the financial implications as outweighing the positives for new parents. Are there any steps employers can take to support employees with taking shared parental leave?
The process behind shared parental leave
Shared parental leave (SPL) converts the remaining weeks of maternity leave, once the two-week or four-week compulsory maternity leave period has been taken, to leave which can be shared between the mother and father, spouse or partner. There are certain qualifying conditions the employee must meet including the continuity of employment test; being continuously employed for a minimum of 26 weeks up to the end of the qualifying week, and they must have a partner who meets the employment and earnings test; been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 week period leading up to the expected week of childbirth and earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of these weeks.
To covert to SPL the maternity leave has to end through returning to work early or by giving at least eight weeks’ notice to curtail maternity leave. There are certain other notices that need to be given to the employer including a notice of entitlement and intention to take SPL and a booking notice at least eight weeks in advance of each period of SPL to be taken. SPL can be taken in a single block or a number of separate blocks although, crucially, both parents can be out from work on SPL at the same time.
The qualifying requirements to receive statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) are essentially the same as those for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). Therefore, employers should be using their normal calculations or processes to work out whether the employee is entitled to ShPP. ShPP is paid at the rate of £139.58 for 37 weeks or 90 per cent of the employees’ average earnings if this is lower.
How to support employees with SPL
SPL is a process heavy right with many notice requests, time limits and entitlement issues to be resolved. As a result, employees are unwilling to opt in because they don’t know the process or they don’t understand it. Employers should ensure they are communicating the process to employees. This is easily done through the existing family friendly policy or by including a separate SPL policy in the employee handbook. Setting out a clear, user friendly process to follow for both employee and employer will encourage uncertain employees to make use of this right.
Employers who offer enhanced support for employees taking maternity leave or paternity leave can consider extending this to SPL. SPL is less advantageous from a financial aspect when compared with maternity leave because the mother does not receive the entitlement to six weeks’ pay at 90 per cent of her normal weekly pay. Instead, once the compulsory maternity leave has been taken, they revert directly to the statutory pay which is currently £139.58. A tribunal case this year highlighted that offering enhanced pay to only females on SPL can be discriminatory against males taking SPL so any enhanced pay decisions need to be extended to both parties taking SPL.
Crucially, employers need to see the right as a positive to help convey a supportive and encouraging message to their employees. Doing so, and processing requests in a timely and positive manner, will only highlight the benefits of working for a family friendly employer.
Kate Palmer is head of advisory at Peninsula.