Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is an entitlement of up to 50 weeks of leave that can be shared between two parents in place of Maternity Leave.
If you’re not familiar with Shared Parental Leave, you’re definitely not alone! Despite the government’s ‘Share the Joy’ campaign, Shared Parental Leave, which replaced Additional Paternity Leave in 2014, isn’t all that well understood. As a result, a surprisingly low proportion of parents have taken advantage the entitlement; 1% of those eligible, according to 2018 reports.
If an employee has asked about taking Shared Parental Leave, how should you manage it? What are your obligations as an employer?
And even if you’re yet to be asked, it’s definitely wise to get clued up in advance. Putting a policy in place will help you manage any future requests. And if you’re aware that an employee’s partner is expecting, being proactive and establishing early on whether they might want to take Shared Parental Leave will give you extra time to prepare for their absence.
It’s also worth considering the benefits of Shared Parental Leave. It could help your employees achieve a work-life balance that supports their emotional well-being, job satisfaction and subsequently, their productivity at work – so employers benefit too!
Shared Parental Leave can seem a little fiddly at first, but we’ll help you get your head around it in this post.
How does Shared Parental Leave work?
A mother and her partner / the child’s father, can opt to take Shared Parental Leave in place of all, or part of, the mother’s Maternity Leave.
The number of weeks of Shared Parental Leave available will be the Statutory Maternity Leave equivalent (52 weeks), minus the number of weeks taken by the mother as Maternity Leave. A mother must take at least 2 weeks of Maternity Leave, so the maximum Shared Parental Leave available is 50 weeks.
If both parents meet the qualifying requirements, they need to decide how they want to divide the Shared Parental Leave and Pay entitlement. One parent can go back to work, or they can both be on leave at the same time. The maximum number of weeks of leave available to them stays the same.
It can be taken as a continuous block, or divided into small blocks over the course of the child’s first year.
Paid Paternity Leave of a maximum of two weeks continues to be available to fathers and a mother’s or adopter’s partner.
Adopters have the same rights as other parents to Shared Parental Leave and Pay.
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Shared Parental Leave pay
Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) is the same entitlement as Statutory Maternity Pay which will be up to 39 weeks, paid at the rate set by the government each year.
The amount of ShPP that an individual employee is entitled to will depend on how much Statutory Maternity Pay or Allowance has been claimed by the mother, and how much SPL their partner is taking.
As a mother must take at least 2 weeks of Maternity Leave, the maximum entitlement of ShPP is 37 weeks.
To determine how much ShPP you will have to pay your employee, you’ll need to find out:
- Whether both parents are eligible
- The amount of Statutory Maternity Pay / Allowance claimed by the mother
- How many weeks of Statutory Parental Leave your employee will be taking (this will be 52 weeks, minus the number of weeks taken by the mother as maternity leave, minus the number of weeks of Shared Parental Leave your employee’s partner will be taking)
The sooner you can find out these details the better.
Shared Parental Leave legislation
As an employer, you need to know that the law (The Children and Families Act 2014) entitles a child’s father, or the mother’s partner, to take Shared Parental Leave.
This replaces previous rights for a father to take ‘Additional Paternity Leave’.
A father taking Shared Parental Leave retains the right to a maximum of 2 weeks’ Paternity Leave.
It’s also important to consider the Equality Act. Under the Equality Act, employers have a responsibility to treat any employee who is absent due to family leave fairly, and in some situations more favourably, during their leave. This includes ensuring they are considered for possible promotion if a more senior role opens and continuing the provision of all their normal ‘benefits’ (except pay).
Who is eligible for Shared Parental Leave?
To be eligible for Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay, both parents must:
- share responsibility for the child at birth
- have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date
- stay with the same employer while taking SPL
- each earns at least £118 a week on average
- be ‘employees’ (not ‘workers’)
If either parent earns less than £118 a week, SPL can be shared but not ShPP.
Checking eligibility for Shared Parental Leave
Shared Parental Leave is a little trickier to manage compared to Maternity and Paternity Leave as you need to establish the eligibility of both partners and you likely only employ one of them.
Your employee will need to provide you with all the information that you need to establish both their eligibility and that of their partner. If your employee is not the mother, you also need to obtain a declaration from the mother that they have ended or intend to end their maternity leave in favour of SPL.
We recommend contacting the other employer to double check the details that you have been given, reducing the risk of a couple claiming double payments or longer leave than they are entitled to. The other employer will be in the same position as you so are likely to welcome the call and be cooperative.
Can both parents be on Shared Parental Leave at the same time?
Yes, both parents can take shared parental leave at the same time.
Following the compulsory Maternity Leave period, there will be a total of 50 weeks SPL for the couple to share, or 48 weeks if the mother is a factory worker and must take the compulsory 4 weeks of Maternity Leave.
Shared Parental Leave examples
There are many different ways parents can use their Shared Parental Leave allowance.
Assuming 50 weeks of SPL are available, this could be taken in the following ways:
- both parents taking 25 weeks each at the same time
- both parents taking 25 weeks, first the mother taking 25 and then the father, or vice versa
- one parent taking 40 weeks and the other taking 10, with the 10 weeks overlapping, or taken after the first 40-week block.
A slightly more complicated option is when parents take their shared parental leave in blocks.
For example, one parent might take a 30-week block while the other parent takes the remaining 20 weeks as two 10 week blocks at intervals throughout the child’s first year.
What’s the minimum notice period an employee must give before starting Shared Parental Leave?
In order for employees to be entitled to SPL and ShPP they should give you 8 weeks’ notice of:
- their intention to utilise their Shared Parental Leave entitlement
- the dates they would like to take the leave
- whether leave will be taken as one single block or multiple blocks.
Although 8 weeks is the minimum, the sooner you find out about your employee’s intentions the better.
Many fathers are not aware of their obligation to give 8 weeks’ notice and often don’t request the leave until a couple of weeks before the due date.
So, if you find out that someone’s other half is expecting, it can be worth signposting them in the direction of your Shared Parental Leave Policy, and talking to them early on about whether they might want to take up their entitlement. This will give you the chance to plan cover well in advance.
Shared Parental Leave and enhanced pay
While you certainly need to pay fathers and mothers the same rate of ShPP, there’s been some uncertainty around whether employers must offer an enhanced ShPP scheme that mirrors any enhanced maternity scheme they offer, in order to avoid discrimination claims.
However, employment tribunal decisions to date have held that it is not discriminatory to offer enhanced maternity pay but not enhanced shared parental pay. This is still a developing area of law, though, and the position may change in future.
It’s also worth considering the advantages of offering an enhanced SHPP scheme in terms of employee morale and retention.
Can Shared Parental Leave still be taken if one partner is self-employed?
Yes, employees can still take SPL if their partner is self-employed provided their partner has taken self-employed earnings for at least 26 or the 66 weeks prior to the expected week of the birth. Their average earnings also need to have been at least £30 for any 13 of those 66 weeks.
A SPLIT day – a Shared Parental Leave In Touch day – is the equivalent to Keeping In Touch (KIT) days for those on Maternity Leave.
Employees taking Shared Parental Leave can take up to 20 Shared Parental Leave In Touch (SPLIT) days each. These are in addition to the 10 KIT days available to those on Maternity Leave.
Both KIT and SPLIT days are optional for employers and employees though, and are intended to help the employee stay in touch with developments in their jobs, or their company, which can help them ease back into work.
SPLIT days do have to be agreed in advance by both you and the employee, so they can’t just turn up and demand to be paid for it.
The law does not require you to pay an employee who works a SPLIT day over and above their ShPP.
However, it’s widely accepted that the employee should receive their contractual pay if they are undertaking any work, and ShPP can be offset against this. There would be no incentive for an employee to agree to work a SPLIT day if they did not receive any pay for doing so.
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Do employees on Shared Parental Leave accrue annual leave?
Yes, all benefits (excluding pay) continue to accrue during Shared Parental Leave in the same way they do during Maternity Leave. This includes things like a company car, phone, pensions and the accrual of holiday entitlement.
Do part-time staff receive less Shared Parental Pay than full-timers?
No. Provided the part-timer is eligible for Statutory Shared Parental Pay, i.e. they earn more than the lower earnings limit, they will receive the same rate of pay regardless of the hours they work.
Avoiding discrimination against those on Shared Parental Leave
Under the Equality Act, the rights of employees on Shared Parental Leave mirror those of Maternity Leave, including:
- Entitlement to return to the same job that they held prior to starting any period of leave, or a suitable alternative on no less favourable terms and conditions if returning to the same role is no longer practical.
- Equal consideration for promotion or advancement compared to other employees.
- Equal opportunities as their colleagues, for example, in applying for a promotion, receiving a bonus or being invited to the Christmas party.
- Entitlement to preferential treatment in a redundancy situation, including offering the employee on Shared Parental Leave alternative roles ahead of those who are not absent on leave.
How to manage Shared Parental Leave: A practical checklist
- Discuss notification periods and partner eligibility early on and make plans around suitable cover.
- Consider the impact the leave will have on the business short term. Review workloads, work patterns and available cover. Have a chat with the parent to ensure they give you sufficient notice for you to plan ahead.
- Provided they are eligible, once your employee has clearly communicated their Shared Parental Leave plans and made the leave booking, you should confirm everything agreed in writing.
- Make sure you double-check the paperwork. It’s important to get the correct declarations from the mother about when they are ending their Maternity/Adoption Leave, so that you can correctly calculate how many weeks of Shared Parental Leave are available.
- Take care not to discriminate against the parent on Shared Parental Leave by complying with the Equality Act.
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If you want to find out more about how to manage Shared Parental Leave within your business, including creating a Shared Parental Leave policy, our HR consultants can help.
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