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New rights for parents in the workplace

20 May 2011

In May 2011 the government published its Consultation on Modern Workplaces, which makes proposals for a new system of shared flexible parental leave and an extension of the right to request flexible working. With employment rights changing so frequently, it is sometimes difficult to keep up. This article will set out, in basic terms, the current system and the proposed changes.

Current rights

Statutory parental rights are made up of:

  • Maternity rights: paid leave to attend antenatal appointments and 52 weeks’ maternity leave (39 weeks paid at Statutory Maternity Pay rate and 13 weeks unpaid).
  • Paternity rights: two weeks’ ordinary paternity leave with ordinary statutory paternity pay at the same rate as SMP. Additional paternity leave for up to 26 weeks if the mother returns to work before the expiry of her maternity leave. The father can be paid any of the mother’s unclaimed paid weeks of maternity leave.
  • Unpaid parental leave: each parent is entitled to 13 weeks’ unpaid parental leave per child (as long as the employee has completed one year’s service with their employer). This can be taken between the child’s birth and fifth birthday. No more than four weeks’ leave can be taken in any one year and leave must be taken in one-week blocks.
  • Employers are free to enhance any of these rights, usually by providing a higher rate of pay than SMP.
  • Proposals made by the consultation

The new system will be introduced in April 2015 and incorporate:

  • Unpaid leave for fathers to attend antenatal appointments: this will be limited to significant appointments (two in uncomplicated pregnancies).
  • An 18-week period of maternity leave: this will be reserved exclusively for mothers and taken in a continuous block around the time of the baby’s birth.
  • A new 34-week period of shared parental leave: the remaining 34 weeks of maternity leave will become parental leave which can be shared between both parents. A mother will be able to combine maternity and parental leave to take the same amount of statutory leave as they can take now. An additional four weeks of paid leave will be provided for the exclusive use of each parent (to recognise the role of each parent and encourage a culture change towards shared parenting).
  • Unpaid parental leave: the amount of unpaid parental leave that can be taken per parent per child will be increased from 13 to 18 weeks. The existing requirement for a year’s employment before an employee can take unpaid parental leave will be removed.

This is not intended to reduce a mother’s overall leave rights – she will still be able to take the full 52 weeks’ leave if she wishes. The proposals simply recognise the changing attitudes to parental responsibility, and allow fathers who wish to be more hands on, to be protected by employment rights.

While the consultation document refers to the rights of parents with reference to mothers and fathers, it is intended to make similar provision for adopters and for all fathers’ entitlements to be available to the spouses, civil partners or partners (including same-sex partners) of mothers. The consultation indicates that micro-business and start-ups will not be exempt from any new leave system.

Another interesting proposal is that the right to request flexible working (which is currently only available to employees with caring responsibilities) will be extended to all employees that have been employed for 26 consecutive weeks. An employer would be able to prioritise competing requests to take account of the employee’s personal circumstances, but if they want to refuse a request, they would still have to show that it could not be accommodated on business grounds.

Views are being sought on the consultation so watch this space to see what final decisions are made about the future of parental rights.

For further information contact Amy Richardson, Associate at Adams & Remers.



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