shared parental leaveWith International Women’s Day upon us, we give a quick fly-over of what shared parental leave means for parents and gender equality, why you should embrace it, and how.

Starting or growing a family is a life-changing time. For many women it’s an uphill battle to juggle careers, kids and gender bias. There’s a real fear of losing out on promotions if they stay at home full time.

The shared parental leave scheme introduced in 2014 gave women more flexibility than ever before, and offered men the chance to help redress the gender pay gap issue by giving women extra support and freedom to return to work. But they need more encouragement to make the most of it. That’s where you come in.

What does it mean for the parents?
Changes to the previous legislation for parental leave aim to make parenthood a less stressful time for everyone. One parent was given the right to unpaid leave, which meant playing ‘pass the parcel’ with baby, and financial pressure on both parents when two incomes become just one.

You’ll have seen the effects of it too: one less staff member either for a long stretch of time, or for good when they opt to stay at home full time.

Now both new mums and new dads can make active choices about spending time with the new arrival. All they need to do is tell their respective employers about their leave, stating that they wish to share maternity leave allowance with a named partner.

Without going to deep into detail about shared parental leave (we’ll let Acas tell you more), the qualifiers are the following tests:

Continuity of employment test: Named partner must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks before for the baby is due
Employment and earnings test: Named partner must have worked for at least 26 weeks of the 66 weeks before the baby is due

Why should you embrace it?
Even though shared parental leave gives more breathing space for more flexible working hours, women ultimately shoulder a lot of the responsibility. It’s a huge step in the right direction, though. If you’re a parent, you’ll know the unique joys of being hands-on and still enjoying progression in your career.

Think of the leave as a benefit: there’s less disruption to your business overall by allowing more flexible working hours for the new mum. If she leaves for good, it just means a resourcing (and possibly reputational) headache for you – plus, good team members are hard to find. A crucial benefit of the scheme is that it still allows your new-parent employees to contribute to the workplace while taking time off that’s appropriate and workable.

How do you make it work?
We appreciate that it’s not all baby showers and flowers, though. Depending on the mother’s job – say, their level or the type of work they do – the approach needs to be carefully handled.

A pregnant employee can request discontinuous leave (periods of shared time off scattered across the 12 months, rather than straight-no-chaser continuous leave). While you have the right to refuse that, it’s wise to look at how the leave pattern could meet everyone’s needs. This includes your employee’s partner, too.

Have an honest conversation about what their plans will be, give them as much information as possible, and if in doubt, take legal advice so you don’t end up in hot water… and end up holding the baby.