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Don’t Get Blown Up in the Minefield of Maternity and Paternity Pay

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Thirty years ago, maternity leave used to be a cut-and-dried process. If the mother was a working mother, she would be entitled to two weeks paid leave. The father could take three days. That was it. Of course, different organisations had their own rules – I know of one major bank that gave a senior member of staff (a new mother) three years of maternity leave at half pay!

The ability for organisations to have their own maternity and paternity leave policies has not changed, and never will. But what has changed over the last few decades is the statutory leave periods and what organisations must give to new parents. The latest set of new rules are something of a minefield, and, even though they have been in force for nearly a year, many bosses still consider the parental leave rules to be a nightmare.

What changed on Easter Sunday 2015?

Before last year, new mums could take up to a year off work after the birth of their child, while dads were entitled to just two weeks of paternity leave. The new rules allow for up to 50 weeks of parental leave to be shared, though there are conditions placed on the parents for them to be able to do so. Here’s how it works:

Who do the new rules apply to?

- As well as being applied to birth parents, the rules now apply to a wider set of parents to include:

- Adopting couples

- Same-sex partners

- Co-habiting couples

- Couples bringing up a baby from a previous relationship

What is the employment record needed to qualify for shared parental leave (SPL)?

To benefit from shared parental leave, both parents must have been employed for a certain period of time before the birth:

One must have at least 26 weeks of continuous employment with the same employer before the 15th week before the baby is due (or matched with an adopted child)

The other must have worked (full-time or part-time) for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before the due date, and have earned at least £30 a week in 13 of those 66 weeks

What are the parental pay rates?

Though SPL is now available for 50 weeks, only the first 37 weeks have to be paid (with the remaining 13 weeks taken as unpaid leave). The rate at which this is paid is 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings or £139.58 per week, whichever is the lower. Again, the employer may offer more: remember, these rules simply state the minimum to which employees are entitled.

However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the right of the mother to a total of six weeks of maternity leave at 90% of her pay with no maximum (this includes the first two weeks that the new mum must take). This makes it unlikely that the new mum will hand over all parenting duties to the new dad and rush back to work after the first two weeks.

How much leave can be taken?

For many employers, it is the way in which SPL can be taken that muddies the waters. Let’s try to make things a little clearer:

Both parents can take up to 50 weeks leave between them (remember, 13 weeks of this entitlement is unpaid, unless the employer decides otherwise)

- The parents are given the flexibility to decide how the SPL is taken

- SPL can be taken at the same time or separately

- The leave doesn’t have to be taken all in one hit, and can be spread out during the first year

- Under the rules, a parent can take up to three blocks of leave during the first year after the child’s birth

- The parent must give their employer at least eight weeks of notice before taking a leave period

How does this work in practice?

A mum-to-be should let her employer know if she plans to convert some of her 52 weeks’ maternity leave into SPL before the birth. Here’s an example of how the SPL may be used:

- The mother takes the first six weeks at 90% of her average weekly pay (total or 4 weeks of SPL)

- The father and mother then take the next two weeks together at the statutory rate of 90% of pay or £139.58   per week (total of 8 weeks of SPL)

- The mother returns to work for four weeks, while the father takes these four weeks as SPL (total of 12 weeks of SPL)

- The father then returns to work for four weeks while the mother takes four weeks of SPL (total of 16 weeks of SPL)

- They switch places again for another five weeks (total of 21 weeks of SPL)

- Both parents take the next 8 weeks as SPL (total of 37 weeks)

At this point the period of 37 weeks of paid SPL has been used (over the 29 weeks). The parents may decide to take another 13 weeks between them, but the employer does not have to pay for these weeks of SPL.

What flexibility is there for the employer?

The new rules have been designed to bring the UK into line with Europe’s parental leave rules, and they lay out the minimum that employers must offer. Of course, this does not mean an employer cannot be more generous. It may be that the employer allows SPL to be booked at less than eight weeks’ notice, for example. Or the employer may decide to pay SPL at a higher rate than the statutory amount, or for a longer period than 37 weeks.

Help parents-to-be understand their rights and the implications of SPL

New parents don’t have to take the maximum SPL to which they are entitled, and the rules are often as confusing to them as they are to the employer. When you have a member of staff that has received the happy news that they are to become a new parent, act early to ensure they know their rights and help them to understand the financial implications of taking SPL. There is an easy to use calculator on the gov.uk website that you can use jointly.

For more information about SPL, see:

Maternity Action – Shared Parental Leave and Pay

GOV.UK – Shared Parental Leave and Pay

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