5 things you need to know about shared parental leave

Posted by Unum Team on 5 March 2015

From 5th April 2015, parents will get more flexibility in deciding who will take time off to look after their new baby or adopted child.

Shared parental leave (SPL) will enable mothers to share their maternity leave and pay with their partners.

But while it’s only a couple of months until the new rules are in place, many employers only have an overview of the regulations and have plenty of unanswered questions.

Employers need to make sure they’re up to speed on what the new rules mean for their business, and put an SPL policy in place to ensure all requests are dealt with consistently.

The scheme is quite complex; here are a few things you might not be aware of:

1) Fathers can’t take SPL unless the mother is also in employment

For a father to be able to take extended leave, he must qualify for statutory paternity pay and have a partner who qualifies for statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance.

An employee needs to have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the due date to be eligible.

Agency workers and self-employed parents are not entitled to SPL.

2) It’s not just for the biological parents

In most cases SPL will be taken by the child’s biological mother and father, but it could also apply to the mother’s spouse, partner or civil partner. Partner is defined as someone who lives with the mother in an ‘enduring family relationship’ but is not the mother’s child, parent, grandchild, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, nephew or niece.

This means there could end up being more than one eligible partner – for example, the father and a new partner. If this is the case, it’s down to the mother to elect the partner with whom she will share parental leave.

Couples who have adopted a child are also eligible for SPL.

3) It doesn’t have to be taken in one continuous block

Unlike maternity leave, SPL can be taken in separate blocks. Each partner has the right to take three blocks, with a minimum of a week off at a time. You can’t force an eligible employee to take their leave in one block, but if they request discontinuous leave such as one week on, one week off, you don’t have to agree to this.

Whatever the planned leave, it must be taken within 52 weeks of the birth or adoption. If the full entitlement has not been taken by this time it will be lost.

4) The mother and partner can be off at the same time

The people caring for their child can choose to be off work at the same time as long as the total period of leave does not exceed 52 weeks. This could have implications for businesses where both parents work for the same employer.

The mother must give at least eight weeks’ written notice to cut short her maternity leave if shared leave is planned. If this notice is given before the baby is born it can be revoked up to six weeks after the birth.

5) Dads are still entitled to paternity leave

Fathers will still be able to take two weeks’ paid ordinary paternity leave. This can be used any time within 56 days of the baby’s birth. It can be taken in a single block of one or two weeks.

The two-week compulsory maternity period immediately following the birth will also remain in place for mothers.

 If you need advice on this, then we can help

27 Harvine Walk, Norton, Stourbridge, West Midlands, DY8 3BQ

Tel: 01384 823835



The Fit for Work service

It is estimated that nearly a million employees a year remain absent from work for more than four weeks, that more than 130 million days are being lost to sickness absence every year, and that employers face an annual bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs. In this article, Stuart Chamberlain, author and employment law consultant, looks at the Fit for Work service.


In 2011 a review carried out by Dame Carol Black indicated that lack of access of employers to occupational health services, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, was a significant factor in preventing employees returning to work. The Review’s key recommendation was the establishment of a state-funded health and work assessment and advisory service.

Introduction of the Fit for Work service

In response to these figures and to the recommendations of the Review, the Government is to introduce the Fit for Work service (formerly known as the Health and Work Service). This service will provide health and work advice through a website and telephone line and free referral for an occupational health assessment for employees who have reached, or are expected to reach, four weeks’ of sickness absence. The service is designed to help these employees to return to work sooner.

Fit for Work has provided a service in limited areas since October 2014. A full national service will be rolled out from April 2015.


To be eligible for referral by the employer, the employee must:

  • Have had four weeks’ absence from work
  • Have a reasonable likelihood of making at least a phased return to work
  • Not have been referred for a FFW assessment within the last 12 months
  • Give explicit consent which is informed and freely given.

Employees will not be eligible for referral to the assessment part of Fit for Work if:

  • They live outside England, Wales or Scotland
  • They are not absent from work
  • They have previously been referred to the service within a 12 month period and have received a Return to Work Plan as a result
  • Their GP has already referred them to Fit for Work
  • They do not consent to the referral.

GPs will use their clinical judgment to decide when employees may not be suitable for referral, eg those who do not have a realistic prospect of returning to work or are patients in hospital in the acute phase of their medical condition.

Outline of the new service

The Fit for Work service aims to improve sickness absence and to help people who have been on sick leave for four weeks to get back to work. It provides an occupational health assessment and general health and work advice for GPs, employers and employees.

There are two elements to the service.

  • Assessment: once the employee has reached, or is expected to reach, four weeks of sickness absence they will be referred by their own GP for an assessment by an occupational health professional, who will examine all the issues preventing the employee from returning to work. Employees will be contacted within two working days of a referral by the GP or employer. The assessment will usually take place over the telephone.
  • Advice: employers, employees and GPs will be able to access advice through a telephone line and website.

After an assessment, employees will receive a Return to Work Plan with recommendations to help them get back to their job more quickly and information on how to get appropriate help and advice.

The scheme is open to all employers, and employees will be referred by a GP or their employer – although none will be obliged to use it.

Employees will be discharged from Fit to Work when they have returned to work or when the service can provide no further assistance or a return to work has not been possible after three months.

Is the service mandatory?

It is not mandatory to refer employees to the Fit to Work service or to progress the recommendations of the Return to Work Plan. Employee consent is required at all stages of the process. The DWP believes, however, that it will be good practice for employers to update their sickness absence polices to reflect the availability of the Fitness to Work scheme for all eligible employees.

It should certainly be useful to those small and medium-sized businesses that do not have ready access to occupational health services.

Some concern has been raised that the new service will replace the existing occupational health services but the DWP insist that Fit to Work is intended to complement, not replace other current services.

Who is paying for the service?

The Government is paying for the new service by diverting the way it funds sickness. With effect from 6 April 2014 employers can no longer reclaim statutory sick pay from the Government — the percentage threshold scheme (PTS). Employers are now wholly responsible for funding the sick pay paid to absent employees.

The money saved (estimated at £50 million a year) will be put towards the new service.

There is a tax exemption for amounts of up to £500 a year per employee for medical treatments recommended by the service or by employer-arranged occupational health services.

Points for employers

Employers should consider the following.

  • The focus of the Fit for Work service is early intervention: to enable employees to return to work promptly.
  • Use of the Fit for Work service could offer significant savings on current occupational health cost that are paid for privately.
  • In order to accommodate the loss of PTS (since April 2014), employers should keep accurate records of absence and SSP.
  • Sickness absence policies should be updated to reflect the availability of Fit for Work and any potential interactions with the workforce.
  • Train managers about the new service and their potential responsibilities.
  • Consider making a referral to an assessment if a GP has not already referred.
  • Consider how to support recommendations in a Return to Work Plan.

 If you need advice on this, then we can help

27 Harvine Walk, Norton, Stourbridge, West Midlands, DY8 3BQ

Tel: 01384 823835