UK: Are You Ready For Shared Parental Leave?

Last Updated: 5 November 2014
Article by Verity Sayers

Summary and implications

In the words of ACAS, "2014 brings the biggest shake up in maternity and paternity rights in recent times." With effect from 1 December 2014, parents will be entitled to share up to 50 weeks of maternity or adoption leave under a new system of shared parental leave (SPL). All employers will need to understand their new statutory obligations and should act now to ensure that they are prepared for SPL requests.

What is changing?


The new SPL system will be available to employees who will have responsibility for a child due on or after 5 April 2015, or for a child who is placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015. Employees who wish to use the scheme must give up their right to take maternity or adoption leave and give notice that they intend to take SPL instead.

Additional paternity leave (APL) will be abolished

The short-lived right for fathers and co-parents to take APL will be abolished. The APL scheme permitted fathers and co-parents of babies due or adopted on or after 3 April 2011 to take up to 26 weeks' leave following the birth or adoption of a child. APL could only be taken between 20 weeks and 12 months after the birth or placement of a child.

Maternity and paternity rights remain the same

SPL does not replace traditional maternity and paternity leave. Rather, it offers an alternative system of shared leave, which employees may elect to use following the birth or adoption of a child. Traditional maternity and paternity leave will remain the "default" position, as employees must elect to take SPL.

At a glance: key features of the new scheme


Parents may share up to 50 weeks of leave, either at the same time or separately.


It is not necessary for both parents to be employees for the employed parent to be eligible to claim SPL. Both parents must, however, have been economically active, having worked in at least 26 of the 66 weeks immediately before the expected week of childbirth (or notification of the match, in cases of adoption). There is also a minimum earning requirement: parents must have earned at least £30 a week, averaged over any 13 of those weeks.


Parents may share up to 37 weeks of shared parental pay (SPP).


Both parents must give eight weeks' notice to their employer of any period of SPL. Both parents can make up to three notifications for leave or changes to periods of SPL. Each notification may include a request for multiple periods of leave.

Employer's option to refuse request

Employers will be entitled to refuse a request for multiple periods of SPL following consultation with their employee. The default position is that an employee is entitled to take a continuous period of SPL, to begin on a date specified by him/her.

Implications for enhanced maternity rights

Enhanced payments

Employers who offer enhanced maternity pay have expressed concern that they may be obliged to offer enhanced pay during SPL.

However, as SPL is a separate system to maternity leave, an employer who enhances maternity pay does not have to offer enhanced pay during SPL (although note our comments under "discrimination" below).

If an employer chooses to offer enhanced pay during SPL, it should offer enhanced pay to both male and female employees. Employers who offer enhanced SPL to one gender only will be inviting a successful discrimination claim.


There are also concerns that the new SPL system may lead to claims of discrimination where employers enhance maternity pay, but fail to offer a similar benefit during SPL.

Employers may take some comfort from the Equality Act 2010, which provides that men cannot bring a claim for direct discrimination on account of "special treatment afforded to a woman in connection with pregnancy and childbirth" and the fact that enhanced maternity pay has, in the past, been relatively safe from challenge on discrimination grounds.

But, the existence of SPL may call into question the nature of maternity leave in today's society. Employees are likely to see little distinction between a woman taking 50 weeks of maternity leave and a man taking 50 weeks of SPL. Where an employer enhances maternity pay but elects not to enhance SPL, a man may reasonably wonder why he should be excluded from receiving the same payments as a woman for taking the same period of leave, for the same reason.

EU law does not, at present, offer consistent guidance on this point. Employers should be aware that this is a potential area of future claims and form their policies accordingly.

What should employers do to prepare for SPL?

Develop policies

Employers should ensure that they have suitable policies in place to cover SPL requests.

Clear policies will be particularly important for employers who offer enhanced maternity pay but do not intend to offer enhanced payments to employees who take SPL.

Arrange staff training

Employers should ensure that their line managers, HR and payroll are aware of the new SPL system and are equipped to cope with SPL requests.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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