New Parental Leave Rules A Challenge For Businesses

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New regulations on sharing parental leave are set to be challenging for growing businesses according to Darryll Thomas, head of employment law at the Solihull office of law firm The Wilkes Partnership.

In addition to two weeks which must be taken by the mother, the new rules means that employees will be able to choose how they share a total of up to 50 further weeks of maternity leave (including paid leave of 37 weeks) between fathers and mothers.

“This will create issues for smaller businesses especially where key employees are concerned” said Mr Thomas.

Employees, who must have been in their jobs for 26 weeks to claim the rights, have to declare their intentions eight weeks before the leave starts and there are other restrictions written into the new rules.

For example, employers can insist that leave has to be taken in single blocks rather than intermittent periods. However, they are not allowed to reject requests for continuous periods of parental leave and employees will be able to change their plans once or twice during their leave.

Employees will retain the right to return to the employer’s business, to the same job where the leave is six months or less or to a similar role in other circumstances.

Shared parental leave came in to force on 1 October and will apply to babies whose adoption or expected week of birth is on or after 5 April next year.

Until now, the statutory leave entitlement was between two and 52 weeks maternity leave for mothers. However, fathers were previously only entitled to two weeks of paternity leave but could take a further 26 weeks in some circumstances, as long as the mother’s maternity leave had ended.

“The changes brought in by the new regulations are designed to give parents more flexibility” said Mr Thomas. “The challenge for employers is that they will have to cover the effects of that flexibility and there could be a significant financial impact for a small business.

“Initially, employers may find it difficult to take on board the fact that male employees may seek extended leave for family reasons and they need to plan for this as early as possible.

“Employers are advised to hold consultations with employees as early as possible, so that the interests of business are protected as far as possible, while the rights of the employees are also protected” said Mr Thomas.

For further information on any of the above issues please contact Darryll Thomas on 0121 733 8000 (dthomas@wilkes.co.uk) at our Solihull Office or Pam Sidhu on 0121 710 5815 (psidhu@wilkes.co.uk) at our Birmingham Office.