Shared parental leave – who’s left holding the baby?

Sarah Henchoz

Shared parental leave is one of the most radical and creative employment initiatives since I became an employment lawyer back in 2001. I will be blogging on the different aspects of the new regime between now and implementation on 5th April 2015. Today, I am looking at patterns of leave.

Since time immemorial it’s been the mother who’s been left holding the baby. When the shared parental leave (SPL) regime comes into force, it is just as likely to be the father. Or is it? SPL is pretty much a dream regime for any parent trying to balance the joys and tribulations of a new baby, the division of labour, the finances, and the career. But there is a high price to be paid for this alternative childcare model. The administrative and financial burden on the employer is significant. Ironically then, in this thoroughly modern age, it looks like it’s also going to be the employer who will be holding the baby.

In the new world, both parents can share 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay. The parents can take it together or separately – in fact they can take it in any pattern they want, provided it is taken in blocks of at least a week and the employer agrees to the pattern. This will be one of the biggest challenges for employers. At least with maternity leavers, the business knows that a woman is likely to be off for one year, and has the right to return to her job. Shared parental leave is a different kettle of fish. When a woman announces she is pregnant, or another employee declares their partner is pregnant, you have no idea what to expect. Will they or won’t they? It is the not-knowing that makes planning ahead very difficult.

It’s true that an employer can refuse a discontinuous pattern of work up to three times, without explanation, but that would not help employee relations and may give rise to a claim of breach of trust and confidence. The better approach is to try and find a workable pattern for all parties: the employer, your employee and the partner who is likely to be an employee in another organisation. Engagement and discussion with the employee is the only way to ensure that a win-win situation is achieved, and where arrangements cannot be accommodated, an alternative is discussed.

Even if the employer is left holding the baby with the additional burdens created by the new regime, it is a small price to pay, and a big step to take, in working towards the wider diversity agenda.

Comments published on Employment Talk do not necessarily reflect the views of Allen & Overy.

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