Is the current statutory shared parental leave right sufficient?
There has been some recent publicity regarding various bodies, including the Trades Union Congress and the Royal College of Midwives, calling for a reform of statutory parental leave (SPL). This was a right introduced by the UK Government in April 2015 as one of its heralded family friendly policies.
Criticism of the current SPL system includes that take-up is very low – the Government’s figure being that it is used by between 2% and 8% of eligible couples, and that it does not provide adequate financial incentive for use. With the view being taken by critics that the current Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequality, reform is being called for.
What is the current statutory position?
In essence, the right to SPL allows the mother/adopter of the child and their partner to share up to 50 weeks of leave to which the mother/adopter would otherwise be entitled as maternity/adoption leave. It therefore does not increase the overall amount of leave that may be taken; rather, it allows that entitlement to be shared between those two people.
During some of the period of SPL, Statutory Shared Parental Pay is available at either of the following rates, whichever is lower:
- £151.97 a week
- 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings
This is payable for up to 37 weeks.
There are certain criteria that must be met by each parent for them to be entitled to take SPL. In short, they must:
- be sharing responsibility with the other parent from the day of the child’s birth or adoption placement
- be legally classed as an employee
- pass the ‘continuity of employment test’
- pass the ‘employment and earnings test’
The rules around the notice required to take such leave and split of leave (which can be in a continuous block or a number of different blocks) are complex, and can be difficult for employees and employers to follow.
Is there reform on the horizon?
It’s almost three years since a review of SPL began in July 2018, and over a year since the consultation ended in February 2020. However, there are no proposals for change yet put forward.
The Government’s own data states around 285,000 fathers or partners would be eligible for SPL a year, and, as noted above, between 2% and 8% of them take up the entitlement. Based on their estimates, a maximum number of 22,800 fathers take SPL in a year. It would therefore seem that there is some work to be done regarding promoting SPL and it may take reform to do this.
Of course, given the potential benefits in terms of staff retention and loyalty, in addition to supporting the parental experience of employees, it is open to employers to offer above the statutory minimum provisions. We have helped employers in doing so by assessing options and assisting with policy documentation.
Get in touch – we’re here to help
If your business has any queries regarding SPL, or is considering moving beyond the basic requirements, please contact one of the employment team to discuss further how we can assist.
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