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06 Jun 2014


Children and Families Bill

On 4th February 2013, the Children and Families Bill 2012-2013 was introduced in the House of Commons. The Bill introduces the planned new proposed system of shared parental leave. Under this system, an eligible mother will continue to receive 52 weeks’ maternity leave upon commencement of employment. However, following the completion of the 2 week period of compulsory maternity leave, a mother can choose to end her leave early and share the remainder of her leave with her partner.

There will be new statutory payment arrangements for parents and the same qualifying requirements that currently apply to statutory maternity and paternity pay. The Bill will also allow partners of pregnant women and fathers of expected children unpaid time off to attend antenatal appointments and for parents proposing to adopt time off to attend meetings in relation to the adoption.

The Bill also extends the right to request flexible working arrangements to all employees and repeals the current statutory procedure for considering such requests. The Bill allows the Secretary of State to make regulations relating to the new system of shared parental leave and pay. These Regulations have not yet been published. Eligibility conditions for mothers and their partners are, therefore, not yet known.

Those that are eligible to receive “maternity pay” will continue to be entitled to the maximum of 52 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks’ statutory pay (in total). All of this leave and pay, bar the first 2 weeks of obligatory maternity leave, will be available for sharing. This allows a new range of possibilities:-

  1. the mother ending her leave early and sharing the remaining leave with her partner;
  2. parents sharing the leave concurrently, for example, both parties taking 26 weeks’ leave;
  3. the Bill will also permit leave to be taken in a single period or non-consecutive periods, although the regulations may empower employers to require that leave is taken in a single period.

A new statutory right will be extended to parents on shared leave, similar to that currently afforded to women on statutory maternity leave, to include, remaining entitled to all of the contractual terms (apart from pay) and protecting fathers on shared leave from redundancy and unfair dismissal arising from the taking of leave.

Other new rights created include:-

  1. new rights for qualifying workers to attend antenatal appointments and adoption meetings. These rights will apply to agency workers as well as to employees;
  2. workers will be entitled to take unpaid time off to attend up 2 antenatal appointments for a maximum of 6.5 hours for each appointment. An employer may require the employee to give a declaration that they are attending the appointment. The right is available to employees who are the husband, civil partner or partner of a pregnant woman, the father or parent of an expected child and an intended parent in a surrogacy situation.

These rights can be enforced by way of a claim to an Employment Tribunal if an employer unreasonably refuses time off. The remedy will be compensation amounting to twice the employee’s normal hourly rate for each hour that they would have been absent.

Adoption Appointments

The Act also provides new rights for adopters to take time to attend appointments arranged by adoption agencies, pre placement. The legislation provides for single adopters to attend up to 5 paid appointments and joint appointers to elect one of them to be paid for the 5 appointments and the other person to have 2 unpaid appointments. Again, a right is provided for employees to make an application to an Employment Tribunal if an employer unreasonably refuses time off to attend adoption appointments (either paid or unpaid). Again, the remedy is compensation amounting to twice the hourly salary for each hour which the employee had proposed that they be absent.

 Right to Request Flexible Working

Going forward, all employees with the necessary period of service (currently 26 weeks) will have the right to request flexible working. Employers will not longer need to follow the statutory procedure contained in the Flexible Working Regulations. Instead, employers will be allowed to use current HR procedures. Employers will be obliged to consider requests in a reasonable manner. An employer will be required to notify the employee of the decision within 3 months, unless an extension is agreed.

The employer is obliged to notify the employee of the decision within 3 months, unless an extension is agreed. Unless the application is withdrawn if, the employer, without good cause, fails to attend two consecutive meetings to discuss the request or an appeal. Employees will have the right to bring Tribunal claims if the employer wrongly treats those requests as withdrawn or if a decision is not made in time.

Its likely that shared maternity leave will come in to force during 2015 and the changes to flexible working requests from 2014. Before then, employers will need to review their policies and procedures to reflect these changes. Managers will require training to ensure they react appropriately to male members of staff making such requests.

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