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Maternity and Paternity Leave Changes

Many parents are unaware of all their rights concerning maternity / paternity leave after the birth of their child, especially as the rules concerning such leave and the ability to share the leave changed in 2011. New rules coming into force 1 December change this further from April 2015.

How much maternity/paternity leave can parents take?
All mothers, save for a few minor exceptions, are entitled to take up to 52 weeks maternity leave following the birth of a child. Fathers who meet certain qualifying requirements are entitled to take either one or two consecutive weeks paternity leave following the birth of a child.

Is maternity and paternity leave paid?
Provided you meet certain qualifying standards, yes it is. Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 39 weeks. For the first 6 weeks it is paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings and for the remaining weeks it is paid at the rate of £138.18 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. Statutory paternity pay is paid at the rate of £136.18 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

I’ve heard that a mother can share her maternity leave with the father of her child – is this true?
Yes it is. Currently a father who is eligible can take, as additional paternity leave, the remainder of any period of maternity leave unused by the mother, up to a maximum of 26 weeks, to care for his new child. This additional paternity leave can be taken from any time after the child is 20 weeks old and must finish by the child’s 1st birthday. In addition it cannot start until the child’s mother has returned to work and stopped receiving statutory maternity pay.

The rules of sharing maternity leave are expected to change in April 2015. What will this mean?
Apart from the first two weeks of maternity leave, which a mother is still legally obliged to take, a mother can choose to share any of her remaining entitlement to maternity leave and give the portion that she does not wish to use to the father, provided he meets certain requirements set down in the regulations. It is anticipated that the mother and father will be able to take their respective shares of the leave at the same time, rather than separately as is the position under the current rules.

Can the mother and father agree to share the leave in separate blocks e.g. alternate blocks of 3 months each?
Yes they can, but the employer can refuse to agree to discontinuous periods of leave and insist that the employee takes it in one continuous period.

If I take maternity leave in two separate blocks, will I still retain the right to return to the same job?
Yes, the current rights concerning returning to the same job after 26 weeks maternity leave will still apply, even if the leave is taken in two separate blocks e.g. two blocks of 13 weeks. If you take more than 26 weeks leave you still have the right to return to the same job, or if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job.

Can we change our minds about sharing the leave?
Yes you can. You can vary the proportions by which you intend to share the leave provided you give the appropriate period of notice, which is expected to be 8 weeks. However there is a cap on the number of times an employee can notify an employer that she/he wants to take or change a period of shared parental leave. This cap is three times, which is the original notification and on two further occasions.

Will the new rules apply to Civil Partnerships and same sex relationships?
Yes. It is expected that the regulations will not only apply to biological fathers but also to a civil partner or partner (whether of the same sex or a different sex) of the mother, subject to certain qualifying requirements.

The above questions and answers are just a snap shot of some of the issues arising out of the current rules and proposed changes, which are very detailed. If you should require advice upon the regulations or any other areas of employment law please do contact our Employment Team.

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