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The planned introduction of shared parental leave and pay has already generated considerable amount of debate and discussion in the media about its pros and cons but what does it actually mean for employers and employees?

The government plans to introduce shared parental leave for new mothers and fathers from April 2015. In response to representations made by interest and business groups representing employers, it will limit the number of times that an employee is entitled to change his or her parental leave plans, in order to create a greater degree of certainty for employers.

The restriction on the number of times an employee can change his or her leave plans is to be limited to three in terms of the number of notifications of intention to take leave that an employer is obliged to accept from an employee. Any changes which are agreed between the employer and employee will not fall within this notification limit.

The government has also confirmed that it will ensure the notification periods required are consistent with paternity leave and pay and provide for notification at the end of the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth (or as soon as reasonably practicable where a pregnancy is not identified until a later stage).

There are no changes planned to the current notification arrangements for adoption leave and pay for employees who qualify for adoption leave and pay under the new fostering-for-adoption placement process. The Government will instead provide a guide encouraging any such employees to provide their employers with as much prior warning as possible.

Furthermore, the following measures are also planned to be introduced in relation to shared parental leave:
Mothers will be permitted to cancel their binding notice to finish maternity leave (and which is provided before the birth), up to six weeks after birth;
Employees will have to provide the same compulsory information when opting into the shared parental leave system that is currently required of a father who decides to take additional paternity leave;
Employees must give an indication (which would be non-binding) of their expected pattern of leave. This would form part of the notification of their eligibility and intention to take shared parental leave;
the cut-off date for taking shared parental leave will be set at 52 weeks from birth;
the right to return to the same or similar job will be maintained for employees returning from any period of family leave that totals 26 weeks or less in aggregate, even if this is taken in intermittent blocks of leave;
each parent must have up to 20 ‘keeping in touch’ days to use while on shared parental leave. These 20 days will be in addition to the 10 “keeping in touch days” for maternity leave and will therefore be given a new name to distinguish them; and the notice period for parents taking shared parental leave will be established at eight weeks and this includes a two-week discussion period.

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