If you have ever welcomed back to work a woman from maternity leave, whether they be a colleague or someone who works for you, you may have had a conversation a little like this:

You:  It’s good to have you back, I can’t believe it’s been a whole year!

Her:  I know, it hardly feels as though I’ve been away

You: Pleased to be back then?

Her:  I’m certainly looking forward to drinking a cup of tea while it’s still hot and some grown up conversation….

For many women, the opportunity to take a year off work to prepare for giving birth, having their babies and then caring for them is welcomed wholeheartedly.  Others find themselves longing after a couple or few months, to get back into working life.

A shock to the system

Going from a busy and fulfilling working life to caring exclusively for a child for a year can be a difficult transition and can also have huge financial implications, particularly if the woman is the primary earner in the household.  Contrary to what many may believe, the statutory maternity pay entitlement is not overly generous and most small and medium sized businesses do not add to the minimum entitlement (many struggle with the disruption and cost of an employee going on maternity leave, still less can they afford to enhance the financial aspects).

Fathers may take 2 weeks of paternity leave after the birth of a child and for the last few years have had an opportunity to take over the care of the child within the first year of its life provided the mother has gone back to work.  This additional entitlement has not proved popular, probably due to a combination of the low rate of statutory paternity pay and concerns by fathers about how their employers might react to them taking weeks or months of paternity leave.

Thus for some couples, the current system sees a woman caring full time for their child but kind of wishing they could spend some of the time back at work, and their partner working full time but kind of wishing they could spend more time with their baby.  In a society where men and women have equal legal responsibility for their children, and many desire to share the care of them equally, the existing system appears outdated.

Shared parental leave is coming

From April 2015, women will have the option to leave the maternity regime as early as two weeks after the birth of a child and instead participate in a brand new system of Shared Parental Leave which will enable their partner to share up to 50 weeks of leave with them.  Parents will be able to take time off together or alternate periods of leave (up to 3 each), to allow them to share the care of the child equally in the first year of its life.

The new system poses different challenges for employers of women who have babies, to that which they have been used to.  Instead of the certainty of needing to find a year’s worth of maternity cover, employers may instead be faced with covering shorter periods, in between which the woman returns to work.  Some employers will undoubtedly find that they can cover this more easily with existing staff than a 52 week block, others will suffer increased disruption as a result of the woman “dipping in and out”.

Employers also need to prepare for the other side of this equation, covering the periods of leave which may be taken by fathers under the new system.  The flexibility afforded by the shared parental leave regime, in particular the opportunity to take time off at the same time as the mother, may result in a much higher take up than the additional paternity leave system which will be abolished when shared parental leave takes effect.

What can you do to prepare?

We are delighted to announce that we will be running a FREE, LIVE and INTERACTIVE webinar to get employers ready for the new shared parental leave system at 12:30pm on Thursday 5th March 2015, a recording of which will subsequently be available for anyone who has registered but has not been able to join the live session.

We also have a complimentary Shared Parental Leave factsheet, which you may request by filling in the contact form – just fill in your details and put the words “SPL Factsheet” in the message area.

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