Shared Parental Leave in the UK
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) came into force on 5 April 2015 in the UK and having explored its origin in Sweden as well as how it is used in Germany and France in our previous blogs we are now turning to the SPL rights which have been introduced in the UK.
How does SPL work in the UK?
In the UK SPL works by a mother bringing her maternity leave (and maternity pay) to an early end enabling her partner to take the balance of the maternity leave as SPL (including pay). The mother can ‘transfer’ (for the benefit of the father) up to a total of 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay. The idea is to encourage fathers to take more time off with their child in its first year of life (or adoption) and some mothers may find that they return to work earlier because their child’s father is taking leave in their place. Parents may decide to be off at the same time, or to take it in turns to have periods of leave to look after their child.
Each employee will be required to give a minimum of eight weeks’ notice of their intention to take each separate period of SPL. Employees will only be able to take three separate sets of leave, or make three changes to the planned dates, during the 52 weeks. Employers will not be able to refuse leave, but they will be able to insist that leave is taken as a single block.
In the UK, Statutory Maternity Pay stands at 90% of the mother’s salary in the first 6 weeks of leave and is then capped at £139.58 per week (or usual average weekly earnings if lower) for the remaining 33 weeks. Any further maternity leave is unpaid and so is paternity and parental leave. Shared parental leave will enable fathers to benefit from SMP (at the capped amount) for the weeks that are shared.
Bigger organisations often provide for enhanced maternity pay. There is no obligation in the legislation to match such provisions for fathers, but if SPL is going to work, and fathers be willing to share, there will be a need for such organisations to match pay for leave granted to mothers and to fathers. Inequality of pay is a key factor that has impeded the uptake of paternity leave and is certain to limit the appeal of SPL to cash strapped new parents. It also projects a cultural expectation that women will be the only ones taking extended periods away from the workplace, which may halt their career progression, stopping the flow of female talent.
As seen in our previous blogs, Germany and France (mirroring the Swedish ‘daddy month’ approach) have recently put in place financial incentives for fathers to take leave by allocating some leave to fathers only: the family as a whole loses out on the amount of their collective paid leave entitlement if the fathers do not take their allocated quota.
Certainly, Sweden is very advanced in creating a culture where childcare is not left to affect the career of the mother only. If we are to move in this direction here sooner rather than later, then big companies and the government will have to look at the pay aspect of SPL - and of course at increasing the provision of affordable childcare to encourage parents to return to work a year or so after the birth of their child. Last not least, a further barrier to change was identified by the study published by My Family Care as the cultural perception that an extended period of time off for a father would be frowned upon or career limiting. This is the strongest suggestion yet that legal concepts do not travel well across borders if not also supported by an effort to proactively change behaviours and attitudes towards a truly family friendly working environment.