By Charlotte Sloan, Associate, Thomas Eggar LLP

On 1 December 2014, new statutory provisions on shared parental leave (SPL) came into effect making SPL available to eligible employees whose baby is due or who have a child placed with them for adoption on or after 5 April 2015.

In essence the scheme entitles eligible parents to share between them up to 50 weeks’ of leave during their child’s first year or first year of adoption and up to 37 weeks’ of shared parental pay.

Whilst the concept is relatively straight forward, perhaps inevitably, when we have a scheme which could involve potentially two employees who could work for two separate employers sharing leave and pay between them, the detail is complex. In particular, there are some complex rules regarding eligibility and notification. For example, to be eligible for SPL each parent has to qualify in their own right but the other parent also needs to satisfy certain conditions. In the case of a birth mother wishing to take SPL these conditions include, amongst others, satisfying a duration of employment test, a requirement to have curtailed her statutory maternity leave or returned to work and a requirement for the co-parent to have satisfied an “employment and earnings test”.

The scheme does, however, seek to introduce a system which enables parents to share leave in a more flexible way than the current schemes of maternity and additional paternity leave offer. This can be seen from the way the scheme entitles eligible employees, if they so wish, to stop and start SPL and return to work between periods of leave and is further illustrated by the fact that employees can take the leave consecutively or concurrently so as to enable a mother and father to be on SPL at the same time.

With the scheme now in force, employers would be well advised to start to familiarise themselves with the detail of the scheme so as to enable them to handle any requests and, similarly, employees wishing to take SPL, when it becomes available, might want to starting thinking about how they will meet the notification and eligibility requirements.