One of the inequalities in the workplace and one that can have a tremendous impact on the career of a woman is the length of time that can be taken as maternity leave. Fathers currently are only entitled to 2 week’s paternity leave. The Government however is looking to tackle this issue and proposals to allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their children are due to come into force in April 2015.
Mothers have the right to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave of which 39 weeks are paid at the statutory rate. The first two weeks after childbirth are compulsory leave. Fathers get two weeks’ paternity leave paid at the statutory rate. These entitlements won’t be affected.
What will change is that, bar the first two weeks of compulsory leave, mothers and fathers will be able to ‘mix and match’ the remaining 50 weeks (37 weeks paid’) if they so wish. This means that they can choose to take their leave in turns or take it together, provided they take no more than 50 weeks. For example, a mother could take the first seven months with the father taking the remaining five months or alternatively the parents could choose to take it together with both taking 6 months. If an employer is agreeable, the leave can even be taken in separate blocks of a week or more rather than in chunks. However, if an employer is reluctant to consider such a pattern – and it is anticipated this may very much be the case and particularly with small employers – then the employee must take the leave in one single block.
A mother can still decide to take all the leave herself and it will simply remain as maternity leave. However, if the parents decide to share the care then it will be known as ‘shared parental leave’.
Impact on Employers
The Government recommends that employees should begin discussions with their employers about the dates and pattern of leave they plan to take as soon as possible. It proposes that mothers and fathers should give eight weeks’ notice of their intention to take each period of shared parental leave. This notice can be given before the child’s birth enabling the parents to enter shared parental leave immediately after the end of the compulsory maternity leave period. Alternatively, a mother can give notice to end maternity leave and to enter the shared parental leave system. The Government proposes that following receipt of a notice the employer and employee should start a two week discussion period.
What employers should do:
- Revise their handbook/family leave policies
- Review their employment contracts
- Ensure their HR advisers are aware of the new provisions and trained accordingly
If you would like further advice on this topic or guidance on how to prepare for the changes, please do not hesitate to contact us.