Shared parental leave now in force

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The introduction of shared parental leave is now enshrined in UK law

Businesses of all sizes should be aware of a change in law that will impact company HR departments, with the ability for parents of both sexes to now make use of shared parental leave.

Introduced from April 5th, all parents can now share their paternity/maternity allowances as best suits them when having a new child.

It is a change in legislation that could have far-reaching impact, not only for families across the length and breadth of the nation, but also for businesses that will now need to be more flexible with their staff when it comes to organising time off after having a baby.

Eligible couples can now share up to 50 weeks of annual leave during the first year following the birth of a child, including 37 weeks of paid time off. Couples that adopt a child can also qualify for the same standard of leave during the first full year following the adoption.

It is estimated that as many as 285,000 couples each year will benefit from this change in law, with partners able to share their leave as they see fit, meaning one parent could have time off at a time or both parents could have up to 25 weeks off together.

Businesses now need to understand how this change in legislation will affect them and while at first this may seem a troublesome new law to take into account in terms of business organisation, there are several significant benefits firms will now be able to take advantage of.

In the past, many women have been given the bulk of time off following the birth of a child and in many quarters this is seen as having a potential detrimental impact on female equality in the workplace.

However, with an equal split available between men and women for leave after childbirth, top female employees could come back to work sooner.

Indeed, employment lawyer Jim Lister of Slater and Gordon argued: "Businesses should see this as a scheme enabling women employees to return to work and I believe that before long it will be commonplace.

"In years to come I think businesses will simply accept that both men and women could take periods away from the office after the birth of their children.

"But it is vital that employers get behind the plans and make sure they know exactly how they should be handling maternity and paternity rules."

It is not just in the business world that these changes are likely to have a positive impact though, as families across the UK are now more likely to see dads take on a greater share of child caring responsibilities following the arrival of a newborn.

All businesses will have to embrace these changes by law and therefore putting in place the necessary processes to provide more flexible shared parental leave packages for staff is something business leaders should place as a top priority if they haven't already.