From April 2015, parents will be able to take time off together or in turns to look after their child. They will be expected to give their employer eight weeks’ notice and make a total of three notifications, meaning they can swap back and forth between work and leave.
This ability to chop and change was reported to have caused controversy between Lib Dems and Conservatives, with initial suggestions that parents would be able to swap up to six times. Today government said capping the number at three (the initial notification and two changes) would give employees flexibility but not make the system unworkable for businesses.
Employees will have to give their employer an indication of when they intend to take time off when they make notification that they intend to use shared parental leave. The cut off point for taking leave will be 52 weeks after birth.
In addition to the keep in touch (KIT) days available on maternity leave, each parent on shared leave will have 20 days to enable them to return to work in a phased way, for example to work part-time for a brief period before returning to work.
Clegg confirmed that all employees will maintain the right to return to the same job if they have taken 26 weeks leave or less (even if broken up over time). After that they have the right to return to the same job or, if that is not reasonable practicable, a similar role.
Clegg said: “We want to create a fairer society that gives parents the flexibility to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth. We need to challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home – many fathers want that option too.
“There shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach – that’s not how families are set up. Many businesses already recognise how productive and motivated employees are when they’re given the opportunity to work flexibly, helping them retain talent and boost their competitive edge. This is good for families, good for business and good for our economy.”
Neil Carberry, CBI director of employment and skills, welcomed the announcement: “We are pleased that the government has listened to firms’ concerns about being able to plan effectively around parental leave,” he said. “Businesses want to support parents and need a workable and straightforward system so they can do so.”
However, some were disappointed by the scope of the government’s plans. Sarah Jackson, chief executive of charity Working Families said the decision to align paternity leave and pay notice periods at 15 weeks before the expected birth date was short-sighted. “Too few fathers today take up their rights even to two weeks of paternity leave so why are they making this even harder for fathers? This consultation offered an opportunity to equalise paternity leave and pay notice periods at 28 days, not 15 weeks which could have made it easier for fathers to take paternity leave. Many fathers don’t think about notice until very close to the birth and may miss out on vital family time as a result of the long notice requirements. Many good employers say that 28 days’ notice for paternity leave wouldn’t cause a problem – so who are the government listening to?”
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