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Returning to work after maternity leave

Shared parental leave

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Shared parental leave

Read this guide to find out what is involved in shared parental leave, and how you can take advantage of the policy.

 

Shared parental leave allows you and your partner to care for your new baby in a more flexible way, by sharing up to 52 weeks of leave between you in blocks, for the first year of your child's life.

This is a relatively new programme, and it can be tricky to get your head around what is involved, whether you're eligible, and the steps you need to go through to take shared parental leave. To help, we've put together some guidance on eligibility for shared parental leave and what you need to do before taking it, plus a few tips to make the process run smoothly.

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Shared parental leave: what's involved?

Shared parental leave allows parents to share childcare responsibilities depending on their preferences and circumstances.

You can take up to 52 weeks of shared parental leave between you and your partner, divided into time periods agreed between you, your partner and your employer. It does not need to be taken all in one go, and parents can take periods of leave at the same time as each other. 

Mothers can convert some of their 52 weeks of maternity leave into shared parental leave. This means the partner could begin to take shared parental leave while the mother is still on maternity leave.

A parent can book up to three periods of leave in the first year of the child's life. So, unlike maternity leave, eligible employees can stop and start their shared parental leave and return to work in between these three leave periods. An employer may allow more blocks of leave at their discretion.

Shared parental pay

Statutory shared parental pay is paid at £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings - whichever is lower. This is the same as statutory maternity pay, except that during the first six weeks of maternity leave, pay is at 90% of whatever you earn.

What happens to maternity/paternity leave?

New mums will still have to take a minimum of two weeks' maternity leave after having a baby (four weeks if she works in a factory), and fathers are still entitled to their two weeks of paternity leave. But the remaining weeks can now be split between the parents. 

Shared parental leave can be used only after the mother has given notice to her employer, confirming when her maternity leave will come to an end (see below). Fathers are still entitled to two weeks' paternity leave, but can take more if they are eligible for shared parental leave.

Eligibility for shared parental leave

To qualify, a mother must be eligible for some form of maternity entitlement, and must have agreed to end her maternity leave before taking up shared parental leave. A mother must share the primary responsibility for the child with the other named carer at the time of birth, and have properly notified their employers.

For a parent to be eligible to take shared parental leave, they must meet the continuity of employment test, and their partner must meet the employment and earnings test.

The continuity of employment test: the person must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the week in which the child is due, and is still employed in the first week that shared parental leave is to be taken.

Employment and earnings test: the person must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before the due date and have earned above the maternity allowance threshold of £30 week in 13 of the 66 weeks.

Sometimes only one parent will be eligible.

Eligibility for shared parental pay

You will also qualify for shared parental pay if you and your partner meet the respective tests above, and if you have earned above the lower earnings limit (£111 per week) in the relevant period - usually in the eight weeks leading up to the 15th week before the baby's due date.

How to take shared parental leave

To get shared parental leave, you need to provide the following to your employer, with at least eight weeks’ notice before the first period of leave starts:

  • A notice of entitlement to request shared parental leave, in the form of a letter or email.
  • A plan confirming the period you wish to take as shared leave. This needs to be signed by you and your manager.
  • A declaration signed by your partner detailing their name, address, NI number, and confirmation that they meet the qualifying conditions.

Your notice of entitlement must cover:

  • how many weeks' maternity leave has been or will be taken before shared parental leave starts
  • how much leave both parents are entitled to take
  • how much leave each parent intends to take
  • when each parent intends to take their leave
  • the signatures of both parents.

If both parents intend to take shared parental leave, they will each need to supply their employer with a notice of entitlement covering the above, along with their partner's signed declaration.

Tips for taking shared parental leave

  • Agree on the level of communication you want to have with work in advance of taking your leave.
  • Think about how you will use your maternity leave and holiday – you can use holiday/maternity leave right before your shared parental leave starts.
  • You can decide to take 'shared parental leave in touch' (SPLIT) days to work from home or come into the office during your period of shared parental leave. These might be beneficial if you want to come into work for a particular meeting, or work a few days to ease yourself back into your role, or just to keep an eye on an important project. You and your employer are able to agree on up to 20 SPLIT days, but your employer doesn't have an obligation to provide them.
  • Make sure you are organised and figure out contingencies with your manager: including helping with handover, contact details, and any loans or insurance cover, as well as organising a performance review before shared parental leave, if applicable.

Can I change my mind about shared parental leave?

You can change your mind about whether you intend to take shared parental leave at various stages. You can vary the amount you take, or cancel your proposed shared parental leave dates by giving written notice. Remember that you are allowed to do this only three times (you have an allowance of three 'notifications') after which it is at the employer’s discretion to grant more.

Should I take shared parental leave?

The best arrangement for parental leave will differ from family to family, and it's a personal choice depending on what you and your partner feel is best for you both. 

Some things to consider at the outset are whether it is one or both of you that qualify for shared parental leave, and how you intend to share caring responsibilities for your new baby. You will also need to think about whether the mother is prepared to reduce her maternity leave in order to convert it to shared parental leave, whether there's a contractual entitlement to enhanced maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental leave pay, and how that might affect your finances, among wider financial considerations.

With all of this in mind, research shows that the ability for partners to take more leave, and added flexibility in working out caring arrangements, are seen as positives by UK parents. A poll commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills revealed the attitudes that UK adults have about work and parenthood, and shared parental leave:

  • Of those who have already been through parental leave, 42% agreed that they wished shared parental leave had been available when they had babies.
  • 57% of fathers said they took between two and ten working days off following the birth of a child, and only 4% exceeded one month, but 37% said they thought fathers should take more than three weeks off work.
  • 59% said more leave would have helped them bond with the baby more.
  • 66% of men who were due to have a child by April 2015, or were thinking of having children in the future, said they’d either probably or definitely be speaking to their employer about shared parental leave.
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