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Government proposes a new system of “Flexible Parental Leave”

BY Fiona McBeath
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

2015 could open the possibility for new mothers to end maternity leave early and share the remainder of their leave with their partner in a pattern of their own design.

Following the Government’s response to consultation, a new system of “flexible parental leave” is being proposed to replace the current system of additional paternity leave with the aim of providing greater scope for fathers to care for their babies.

The new system aims to maintain the default position of 52 weeks’ maternity leave and 39 weeks’ maternity pay for new mothers; however they will now have the additional option to cut their leave and pay short (after the 2 week compulsory leave period) to share the remainder of their entitlement with their partner. Most interestingly, it is now proposed that they should be allowed to take their leave in turns if they want, rather than taking lengthy blocks of leave. This could mean that both parents could be taking leave (and pay) on alternate weeks within the maximum 52 week period.

To be entitled to this right, both partners would have to meet the qualifying conditions and they would need to comply with the relevant notice requirements with their employers. In addition, they will also have to submit a template to their employer outlining the pattern of leave they wish to take, however this guideline will not be binding. 

For some employers this may appear to be a massive HR migraine.  This may cause particular difficulty with employing maternity cover and arranging statutory and company maternity pay. The government certainly needs to clarify how much of a say the employer will have on these custom patterns of leave.  Undoubtedly, if employers have the power of veto, there could be scope for lengthy deliberations over leave patterns between the mother and father’s employers. 

Alternatively, this may be the answer some employers have been waiting for.  Should this come into force, this new system will increase the scope for greater employee contact. As a result, some employers may favour the idea of having their maternal employees in the workplace on alternate weeks, rather than being on leave for an entire year. 

Whether good or bad, this new scheme could potentially result in a lot of ugly confusion without a solid set of regulations. Until then, we await further guidance on the government’s proposals for potential implementation.

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