Shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced in 2015 to allow working couples the opportunity to share and organise leave in a way which works best for their family. A maximum of 50 weeks’ leave can be split between mother and father, with both parents able to take leave at the same time or allowing one parent to return to work with an option to recommence leave at a later date. Statutory shared parental pay is also payable for up to 37 weeks.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has estimated that 285,000 couples are eligible to take SPL each year, however, the percentage of employees taking advantage of this leave could be as low as 2 per cent. They also believe that approximately half of the general public are unaware of the option to share leave under this employment right.
As part of the government’s Good Work: a response to the Taylor review of modern working practices, an awareness campaign relating to shared parental leave (SPL) was announced. The campaign titled ‘Share the joy’ will target parents’ lack of knowledge regarding the right to share leave. Advertising campaigns will be carried out in targeted areas including online, through social media, and by placing adverts in commuter areas such as train stations. A new website on SPL will also be created to provide employees with detailed information and guidance about whether they are eligible for the leave, and how to take this.
Whilst SPL is seen as a positive for staff by encouraging flexibility, organisations can view SPL as difficult and disruptive to their business. This is contributed to by the complicated rules surrounding eligibility, notice requirements and the patterns of leave that can be taken. Some organisations may still be struggling to grasp the detailed rules around the leave and this can lead to a negative culture surrounding the use of SPL, regardless of the positives the leave has such as higher retention and employee engagement.
As employees become more aware about the right to take SPL, organisations can take positive steps to introduce a workplace policy on shared parental leave which outlines the rules on taking the leave, eligibility and how to provide notice. This will help employees and managers understand the leave better, encouraging take up and the correct handling of requests. Additionally, requests should also be handled proactively and positively; a discussion can be held with the employee about the request, whether the request will be approved or declined and how they will be supported during their leave.