Shared Parental Leave (SPL) introduced in 2015 was designed to allow parents and adopters to share leave and create a more flexible and equal parental role.
Mothers have to take the first two weeks' of their maternity leave as compulsory leave, or four weeks if they are a factory worker, and adopters can end their adoption leave after two weeks so this creates a maximum of 50 weeks of leave that can be taken as SPL. This is a maximum so the parents can decide, for example, that the mother will take more maternity leave before opting in to SPL. This is fine so long as 8 weeks' notice is given to end the maternity or adoption leave to enable this to transfer in to SPL. Leave has to end within 52 weeks after the first date leave has been taken.
Leave can be taken in two ways: either as a period of continuous leave or as discontinuous leave. It is up to the employee to inform their employer how they wish to take leave using a Period of Leave Notice. How the employee uses their three notices is important. If a Period of Leave Notice contains a request for a single continuous block of leave, the employer cannot refuse this and the employee is entitled to take leave as requested.
Where a Period of Leave Notice contains a request for discontinuous leave, i.e. at least two periods which are split by a period when the employee will be at work, then agreement by the employer is required. A 14 day discussion period starts when the notice is received and allows both parties to discuss alternatives, if necessary. If nothing has been agreed at the end of this period then the employee can take the total length of leave contained in the notice as one continuous block, unless they withdraw the notice.
The major advantage of SPL is that both parents can choose to take leave off at the same time for a greater period than the initial two weeks paternity leave afforded to fathers, partners and secondary adopters. In theory, the employees themselves can decide how to divide the leave between them and this may be equally.
It is possible that an employee chooses to take a period of maternity leave or SPL and then returns to work without taking their full leave entitlement. Ultimately, this does not mean that the employee will remain in work. Within a year of their first date of leave, the employee can give another notice to take their remaining entitlement so long as eight weeks' notice are given.
Pre-notifying employers of periods of leave can help both parties to plan ahead. In cases where the baby is born before the due date and the employee has already booked to take SPL in the first 8 weeks of the due date, they can take the same period of leave off after the actual birth without having to give the required 8 weeks leave. Instead, they need to give notice to change their leave as soon as is reasonably practicable.