Shared parental leave: early and late arrivals

The new shared parental leave (SPL) regime – which came into force on 1 December 2014 – will be available to eligible parents where their baby is due on, or after, 5 April 2015. What happens if the baby is born late or early?
parental leave

What is shared parental leave?
The new, rather complex, shared parental leave (SPL) regime came into force on 1 December 2014 . Eligible parents of babies due on, or after, 5 April 2015 will be able to take SPL – either together or at completely different times – in the first year of their child’s life. The mother will still have to take her two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave following the birth but, thereafter, she can curtail her right to maternity leave and the parents may split the remaining 50 weeks between them.

Note. The amount of SPL which may be taken in the first year of the child’s life is calculated by deducting the length of maternity leave already taken before the SPL period starts from a total of 52 weeks. SPL can be taken by either parent, or both, either independently or at the same time.

Who is eligible for SPL?

Before they can opt to take SPL, both parents must meet the strict eligibility criteria. In this regard, the mother needs to have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks by her employer at the end of the 15th week before her expected week of confinement. Also, her partner must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks prior to the baby’s due date on an employed or self-employed basis or as an agency worker. However, unlike the mother, her partner needn’t have been continuously employed by the same employer.
Shared parental leave

Note. If one parent is unemployed, or if the mother is self-employed (there are 1.4 million women registered as being self-employed in the UK), there will be no right to take SPL.

Continuous or discontinuous?

Where the eligibility criteria are met, parents may request a continuous period of SPL, or a maximum of three separate blocks which are known as discontinuous periods of SPL, by giving their employer at least eight weeks’ notice of their intention. Any request for one continuous period of SPL must be accepted – you’ll have no right to refuse it on business grounds. On the other hand, requests for discontinuous periods of leave can be refused.

Born early or late?

One question many employers have asked is what happens where a baby is born late or early – does this alter the parents’ entitlement to take SPL? The answer is “no” – what matters here is the baby’s due date, not their actual date of birth. So if a baby is due on, or before, 4 April 2015 but is ten days late, there’s still no right to SPL. Equally, if the baby was due on, or after, 5 April 2015 but makes an early appearance, the parents will still be entitled to SPL (providing, of course, they both meet the eligibility criteria).

Note. To help employers understand the new SPL regime, Acas has produced free guidance. Don’t forget that SPL is entirely optional; parents are under no obligation to take it and independent research clearly indicates that traditional maternity leave will still be the favoured option.