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Shared parental leave and flexible working

The Government is acting on the promise they made last year to commit to working families in the 21stcentury through the publication of the Children and Families Bill. You may recall that the proposals relating to changes in employment law included shared parental leave, pay and extending the right to request flexible working to all employees – this has now been put in motion. The Bill has been through its first reading and though all is not yet clear, we now have a fair idea of the changes to be implemented. 

New statutory rights to shared parental leave and pay

The Bill creates new rights for shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay. The precise detail of how the shared parental leave and pay scheme will work, including eligibility criteria, will be contained in as-yet-unpublished regulations. 

However, it is clear that women will continue to be eligible for maternity leave and statutory maternity pay or allowance but will be able to choose to end their leave and pay or allowance early and share the remaining leave and pay with their partner.

The Bill clearly sets out that, when calculating the amount of leave taken, a part of a week is to be treated as a full week. Employers will be permitted to require employees to take leave in a single period rather than non-consecutive periods.

Provisions relating to additional paternity leave and additional statutory paternity pay will be repealed.
Further eligible adopters will also be able to use the new system for shared parental leave and pay. The precise details will be set out by the Secretary of State in regulations.

Time off work for antenatal appointments

The Bill creates a new right for employees and agency workers expecting a child (including through surrogacy) to take unpaid time off work to attend up to two antenatal appointments with a pregnant woman, for a maximum period of six and a half hours for each appointment.

In order to be entitled to the time off, an employer may require an employee or agency worker to make a declaration stating:

  • that he or she has a qualifying relationship with a pregnant woman or her expected child;
  • that he or she is taking the time off to attend the antenatal appointment;
  • that the appointment is made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, midwife or nurse, and
  • the date and time of the appointment.

If an employer unreasonably refuses to allow those entitled to the time off, they will be able to bring a complaint to the employment tribunal. If the complaint is well founded the tribunal must order the employer to pay a sum equal to twice the worker’s hourly rate for each hour he or she would have been absent for the appointment, had it been permitted.
Provisions will also be made for paid and unpaid time off work for adopters to attend meetings in advance of a child being placed with them for adoption. 

Right to request flexible working 
To allow individuals to manage their work alongside other commitments, the Bill extends the right to request flexible working from employees who are parents or carers to all employees. 

Further, the current statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests will be removed and instead employers will be under a duty to deal with applications ‘in a reasonable manner’. This includes notifying the employee of their decision within three months of the employee’s application unless a longer period is agreed by both parties.

ACAS will publish and consult on a statutory Code of Practice to explain what the minimum requirements are in order to consider a request in a reasonable manner. 

Conclusion

The aim behind the new rights is clear – to create an equal environment which allows women to progress with their careers and fathers to take a more active role in raising their child. Whether this will be achieved in practice, only time will tell; however it is clear that employers will need to ensure:

  • Those dealing with personnel matters understand the implications of the Bill and
  • Put in place robust administrative systems to monitor employee entitlements, flexible working requests and the working arrangements of their staff.

Samira Cakali

Solicitor Advocate LLB (Hons), Higher Rights (Civil) at SCE Solicitors
Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.
Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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