What is coming into force this April?

Written on 1 Apr 2015

This April sees a number of employment law developments. Whilst some of these have attracted significant publicity, others have been less widely announced. If you do have any queries regarding any of these developments, please do not hesitate to contact your usual OC Contact who will be happy to assist.

Shared parental leave regime starts to bite

Despite the relevant laws having been in place since December 2014, employers are likely to see more movement in queries (and potentially requests!) for shared parental leave from this April. The new rules apply to babies who are due to be born on or after 5 April 2015 or children who are adopted on or after that date. Essentially, eligible parents will be able to choose how they share the care of their child during the first year after birth or first year of adoption. Working couples will be able to share up to 52 weeks’ maternity or adoption leave and 39 weeks’ maternity or adoption pay (subject to a mother on maternity leave having to take a compulsory two weeks leave after birth). Key points are:

  • The new regime does not replace a parent’s entitlement to take 52 weeks’ maternity or adoption leave and 39 weeks’ maternity or adoption pay. It simply allows that parent to only take part of that leave and/or pay and instead transfer the rest to the shared parental leave regime where they and their partner can choose who takes it and when.
  • Both parents must satisfy various eligibility criteria and be financially active in some way (including on a self-employed basis).
  • A mother or primary adopter must agree to give up some of their maternity/adoption leave and/or pay to share with the other parent.
  • Each parent can only take 3 separate blocks of shared parental leave. Provided all the requisite eligibility and notice requirements are satisfied an employer must allow an employee to take the periods requested unless a request is made for that period to incorporate a pattern within in it of being at work and then being off (referred to as “discontinuous leave”) in which case special rules apply.

The Government has been issuing guidance and tools to help businesses with this new scheme including an eligibility calculator (see here). Given the complexity of the rules, where an employee does fall close to the eligibility criteria, employers would be sensible to check manually that they agree with the government’s calculations as these tools are still in their infancy.

Changes to adoption leave and rights on surrogacy

As part of its family-friendly reforms the Government has also made the following changes to the statutory adoption leave and pay entitlements as follows:

  • Statutory adoption pay (“SAP”) will be brought in line with statutory maternity pay so that the first 6 weeks of SAP will be paid at 90% of the employee’s annual earnings rather than at the flat rate of £139.58.
  • Statutory adoption leave becomes a day 1 right. The 26 week service requirement is removed.
  • New rights for the primary adopter to take paid time off for up to 5 adoption appointments and for the secondary adopter to take unpaid time off for up to 2 adoption appointments. Employees (and agency workers who qualify for this right) will be protected against suffering a detriment or dismissal in respect of exercising this right.

Rights to adoption leave shall also be extended to individuals fostering a child under the “Fostering for Adoption” scheme operated by Local Authorities.

There are also new rules on surrogacy. Parents who have a child through a surrogacy arrangement will be entitled to take ordinary paternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave (and receive statutory pay) subject to meeting the eligibility criteria.

New statutory pay rates on family friendly leave and sickness

Statutory maternity, adoption, paternity, additional paternity and shared parental pay will increase to £139.58 a week from 5 April 2015. Statutory sick pay will increase to £88.45 from 6 April 2015.

Statutory parental leave extended to children under 18

Parents with at least one year’s service have a statutory right to take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave to care for a child. At present this leave must be taken by the child’s 5th birthday or the 5th anniversary of the child’s placement for adoption (unless the child is disabled in which case the leave must be taken by the child’s 18th birthday).

From 5 April 2015, the period in which qualifying parents can take unpaid parental leave will be extended to allow all parents to take this leave up to the child’s 18th birthday.

Increase in unfair dismissal awards and statutory redundancy pay

The maximum limit on an unfair dismissal claim will increase from £76,574 to £78,335 (or the employee’s pay for 12 months where this is lower) where the effective date of dismissal is on or after 6 April 2015.

A maximum week’s pay for calculating the unfair dismissal basic award and statutory redundancy pay will also increase from £464 to £475 from 6 April 2015.