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Parental leave entitlements consultation

Reforming parental leave and pay, introducing neonatal leave and pay, and requiring all employers to advertise jobs as flexible are among reforms suggested in a government consultation.

The consultation, Proposals to Support Families, explores three areas: the overall approach to parental leave and pay, the introduction of statutory neonatal leave and pay, and new measures to improve the transparency of employers’ flexible working and parental leave and pay policies.

Parental leave and pay

The consultation explores the objectives of parental leave and pay; how government policy supports parents and employers; the factors which enable parents to combine work and childcare and the impact of each of these factors; and looks at high level options for reforming parental leave and pay. The government is currently evaluating the statutory shared parental leave and pay scheme on which it’ll report later in 2019 and this consultation will feed into that. As regards the high-level options for reform, the consultation does not contain any specific plans but rather poses (in Chapter 1) a series of questions on the various schemes currently available.

Neonatal leave and pay

It is proposed that parents of babies which require neonatal care after birth should be entitled to new leave and pay, rather than having to rely on the existing entitlements such as maternity/paternity/annual leave.

  • Parents would receive one week of Neonatal Leave and Pay for every week that their baby is in neonatal care, up to a maximum number of weeks. This would apply to parents of babies who had spent a minimum of two continuous weeks in neonatal care immediately after birth.
  • Where the father or partner is eligible for paternity leave, the intention is that Neonatal Leave and Pay would be taken at the end of the father’s paternity leave.
  • For mothers, Neonatal Leave and Pay would enable an additional period of time to be spent caring for the baby at home at the end of her maternity leave, which will replace the time that would have been spent doing this following birth, but for the fact the baby was in hospital.
  • Existing provisions for other family-related leave and pay rights, such as maternity/paternity, and shared parental leave and pay would be unaffected by this statutory right.
  • Neonatal Leave and Pay should be restricted to the individuals who would have had the main responsibility for caring for the child, had it not been admitted to neonatal care. This means that the following groups of parents would potentially be eligible for Neonatal Leave and Pay:
    • the mother/father of the baby or babies
    • the mother’s spouse; civil partner or a partner who will be living with the mother and baby that is in neonatal care in an enduring family relationship
    • the intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement (where they are eligible for and intend to apply for a Parental Order)
    • the intended parents in cases of adoption, where the intention was that the baby or babies would be placed with the individuals that they have been matched with at birth or shortly after birth
  • To qualify for Neonatal Pay, parents must have:
    • average earnings over a prescribed reference period above the Lower Earnings Limit and be continuously employed by the employer who is liable to pay them Neonatal Pay up until the baby’s birth, and
    • have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer at the 15th week before the baby is due (this essentially means that they must have been employed by their current employer at the point the mother became pregnant)
  • Neonatal Pay would be paid at the statutory flat rate applicable to other parental leave entitlements.
  • A parent who is on Neonatal Leave should have equivalent employment protections as a parent would have under the current right to parental leave in respect of older children, including the right to not be treated unfavourably, or to be dismissed because they are taking, or are seeking to take, Neonatal Leave.

Transparency in flexible working/family-related leave and pay policies

The consultation looks at whether employers should have a duty to consider if a job can be done flexibly and make that clear when advertising a role. It also considers options for requiring large employers (those with 250+ employees) to publish their family-related leave and pay and flexible working policies.

  • Publishing policies: if a requirement to publish family-related leave and pay and flexible working policies was introduced, large organisations might be required to provide a link to the relevant policies on their website. As the purpose of the requirement is to achieve greater transparency, the government believes that this should be the case whether their offer exceeded the statutory minima or not. Where the offer does not exceed the statutory, a simple statement should suffice. The consultation also queries whether testing a voluntary approach in the first instance may be a better way forward.
  • Flexible working in job adverts: the consultation asks whether a simple statement (e.g. in a job advert such as ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’) or a fuller statement (e.g. covering the organisation’s approach to place, times and hours of work) is the preferable approach. It also canvasses views on enforcement and penalties for breach (without suggesting any specific mechanisms for doing so) and whether employers should have to record whether they’ve advertised jobs as flexible (e.g. via a database such as the gender pay gap reporting portal).

The consultation on parental leave and pay closes on 29 November 2019 and the consultation on neonatal leave and pay and flexible working transparency closes on 11 October 2019.