The Children and Families Bill – shared parental leave and flexible working
The Children and Families Bill was published yesterday, giving effect to the proposals for reform announced in November 2012. It includes new rights to shared parental leave and pay and the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees.
Shared Parental Leave
The government’s commitment to creating a more flexible and equal system of parental leave for working parents was first announced as part of the Consultation on Modern Workplaces in 2011. It is anticipated that the new system of flexible parental leave will be implemented in 2015.
- Mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave as a day one right and fathers to 2 weeks’ paternity leave.
- Mothers can choose to end their maternity leave at any time after the compulsory 2 week maternity leave period. Working parents can then decide how they want to share the remaining leave and pay.
- There will be new statutory payment for parents on shared parental leave with the same qualifying requirements that currently apply to statutory maternity and paternity pay. No more than 39 weeks of leave can be paid.
- Fathers will gain a new right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments.
- Those who have adopted a child and parents in a surrogacy arrangement will be entitled to the same pay and leave as birth parents.
- The current provisions relating to additional paternity leave and additional statutory paternity pay will be repealed.
The detail of how the shared parental leave and pay scheme will work in practice will be contained in regulations which have not yet been published. It will be interesting to see to what extent the regulations address some of the anticipated practical issues with the new system, such as what happens if one employer is in favour of the proposed shared leave and the other is not. In an effort to minimise organisational difficulties, the Bill expressly allows the regulations to state that an employer can require employees to take leave in a single period rather than in a number of shorter non-consecutive periods.
- The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees (currently the right only applies to parents and carers). As is the case now, there will be no obligation on an employer to agree to a flexible working request, just to consider it. The extension is expected to come into force in 2014.
- The current statutory procedure for considering requests will be removed. Instead employers will have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner and to notify the employee of its decision within 3 months of the employee’s application.
- ACAS will publish a statutory Code of Practice to explain what the minimum requirements are in order to consider a request in a reasonable manner.
The impact of the extension may be lower than expected, given that some employers already allow all their employees to ask to work flexibly and the economic situation means that many employees will not be in a position to ask for reduced hours. However, we may see an increase in the number of applications for a new working pattern such as compressed hours or homeworking.
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