By Roger Moore, General Manager, Bond Teamspirit

The new Shared Parental Leave (SPL) legislation comes into effect in April 2015 – but, since it applies to any baby due after 1st April, including those born prematurely, a company could face its first SPL request any time now. But just how many are prepared for a legislation that not only allows couples to share up to 50 weeks leave but also take that leave in discontinuous blocks? How many have put in place processes for checking eligibility and leave requests with the partner’s employer or educated managers about the SPL application and appeals processes?

At first glance, the new SPL requirements look straightforward, simply building on the maternity leave processes with which every payroll and HR team will be familiar. Indeed, employed mothers will continue to be entitled to 52 weeks of Maternity Leave, which includes 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance; and paid Paternity Leave of two weeks will continue to be available to fathers and a mother's or adopter's partner – although Additional Paternity Leave will be removed and replaced by SPL.

Managing Employee Requests

Organisations are not obliged to agree to discontinuous leave – although they must accede to requests for continuous blocks - but given the new leave options offered by SPL, it is essential that line managers understand these requirements and can respond effectively to avoid falling foul of the legislation. Has the employee provided a “Notice of Entitlement to take SPL” at least eight weeks before the start date and provided detail regarding the amount of maternity leave to be taken; the amount of SPL entitlement; how much SPL to be taken and when? How will a manager respond if the employee uses his or her right of appeal – up to three times – in response to refusal for varied SPL?

Systems and Processes

In addition to educating both managers and staff about the intricacies of SPL, it is also worth considering whether the current HR system can be used to support the new requirements, for example with self-service SPL requests. Is it possible to introduce new workflows to streamline key steps in the process, from appeals through to communication with the other employer? If SPL can be embedded within existing HR and payroll processes, an organisation can not only impose greater control but also minimise the additional administrative overhead.

This is just as critical for payroll as it is for HR. While Auto-Enrolment contributions under SPL are treated in the same way as Maternity Leave, payroll needs to ensure systems provide HMRC with a Real Time Information report to confirm the matching government payment. Furthermore, in addition to the 52 weeks leave, SPL includes a number of SPLIT days. Similar to the Keep in Touch (KIT) days already supported under Maternity Leave regulations, a couple is now entitled to 20 SPLIT days – during which time the employee should receive standard pay.

Time to Plan

Over the next few weeks organisations must educate managers about SPL and explain rights regarding continuous and discontinuous leave applications; ensure the key steps are supported by HR and payroll systems – including the recording of information and timely communication with other employers; and inform staff regarding the new legislation to ensure employees understand their new rights.