Shared Parental Leave

Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 and is designed to give parents more flexibility in how they share the care of their child in the first year after birth or adoption. Read on to find out who’s eligible and what they’re entitled to under the current laws.

Shared parental leave is available to the mother, father or the mother’s spouse or partner, including civil partners and same sex partners. After the initial two weeks of statutory maternity leave and allowance for the mother, and paid paternity leave for the father, parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between them.

Parents’ rights at work are an evolving area of discussion and legislation. However, while work place cultures vary, shared parental leave is a right. You and your partner are entitled to it, if you meet the criteria discussed below.

What is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave was introduced by the government in 2015 to replace additional paternity leave. It’s a way of splitting parental leave between parents, giving couples more flexibility in deciding which parent takes time off work to look after a child. It doesn’t involve an increase in parental leave but it does mean you can choose how you divide leave between you and your partner.

Unlike maternity leave, shared parental leave doesn’t have to be taken in a single block of time and can be broken up into as many as three periods that fall within the first year from the child’s birth or date of adoption.

You and your partner can choose to take time off simultaneously or split the time up. It’s up to you, but once you've decided how to divide the leave, you'll need to agree it with your respective employers in advance. Ideally, you want to give them as much notice as possible, so that you’re in a strong position if they prove resistant. As we’ve already said, though, your employer can’t stop you taking parental leave.

Who can get shared parental leave?

To qualify for shared parental leave, you must pass the continuity of employment test which stipulates that parents must have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks by the beginning of the 15th week before the baby's due date. To get this date, find the Sunday prior to your baby’s due date on the calendar and count 15 Sundays back.

If you’re adopting, the 26 weeks' work counts until the time when you were notified of having been matched with a child or adoption.

Both parents must remain employed up until and including the first week that shared parental leave is to be taken.

Can self-employed people get shared parental leave?

The laws around parental leave and self-employment are complicated. You might want to talk to Acas or Maternity Action, both of which offer free advice and will be able to talk to you about how the law applies to your individual circumstances. But here’s a brief guide to the laws around shared parental leave and the self-employed:

Self-employed women are entitled to maternity allowance (the difference between maternity allowance and statutory maternity pay is explained here). To receive the full maternity allowance (£145.18 per week or 90% of your earnings – whichever is lowest), you must have paid Class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks before your baby’s due date. If you have not paid enough Class 2 National Insurance, you’ll get £27 a week for 39 weeks.

If you qualify for maternity allowance, and your partner qualifies for paternity leave and statutory paternity pay, then you can get shared parental leave, on the proviso that you reduce your maternity allowance. The same applies if you’re an agency worker, who qualifies for statutory maternity allowance, and your partner is an employee.

If you’re an employee, qualifying for maternity leave, and your partner is self-employed, then your partner is not eligible for shared parental leave. At the time of writing (November 2018), there is a growing campaign to extend parental leave to both self-employed partners. Watch this space.

How much will I be paid for shared parental leave?

From April 2018, statutory shared parental pay is paid at £145.18 (or 90% of the employee's average weekly earnings if this figure is less than the statutory rate). If you’re reading this after April 5 2019, you should check to see if the amount has increased again (fingers crossed).

If you qualify for shared parental leave, you are also entitled to shared parental pay as long as you've earned an average salary which meets the lower earnings limit of £111 for eight weeks prior to the 15th week before the expected due date or adoption date.

You do not have to repay shared parental leave if you don’t return to work.

Notifying your employer of shared parental leave

Shared parental leave can only begin once the mother has returned to work. In the case of mothers who are not entitled to parental leave – because, for example, they’re self-employed – then they must have returned to work before their partner begins shared parental leave.

Once you’ve decided you want to take shared parental leave, it’s probably worth having an informal chat with your employer about your plans and how they fit in with your employers’ wishes. This is just a suggestion, though, while the following is law.

You must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice if you intend to take shared parental leave and you must give your employer a notice of entitlement to take it. Acas has created forms for notifying your employer of shared parental leave. Whichever way you choose to go about it, your notice must include:

  • How much shared parental leave is available
  • How much leave you are entitled to take
  • How much leave each parent intends to take
  • When each parents intends to take the lead
  • The signatures of both parents

Notice of shared parental leave must be accompanied by a declaration from the employee’s partner. This should confirm that, at the time of the child’s birth, the employee’s partner:

  • Shares responsibility with the employee for the child’s care
  • Passes the continuity of employment test and the earnings test (see above)
  • Consents to the employee taking the SPL specified in the employee’s notice of entitlement

Each eligible parent can give their employer up to three separate notices booking or varying leave, either for a continuous block of leave, or several shorter periods.

An employer is obliged to agree to the former, but may refuse the latter and request that leave be taken as one block.

For more information about shared parental leave

Acas have produced a guide to Shared Parental Leave: a good practice guide for employers or employees which is detailed and up to date on every aspect of the laws regarding SPL.

Maternity Action has lots of information, including useful examples which illustrate how entitlements to shared parental leave work in practice.

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