Shared parental leave explained – Guide for UK employers plus detailed FAQ

Shared parental leave (SPL) offers a flexible option for parents in the UK to take leave from work following the birth or adoption of their child. This guide aims to explain the key aspects of SPL, ensuring that employers across the UK are well-equipped to support their employees through this process.


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What is shared parental leave?

Introduced in April 2015, shared parental leave permits parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby or adopting a child. The goal of SPL is to offer greater flexibility in how parents care for their child during the first year, encouraging both parents to engage in child-rearing and potentially return to work sooner.

Eligibility criteria

For employees to be eligible for SPL, they must share responsibility for the child with their partner and meet work and earnings criteria, similar to those required for maternity or adoption leave.

Specifically, the mother must be eligible for either maternity leave or pay, or maternity allowance, and must share the main responsibility for caring for the child with the child’s father or her partner.

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Both parents must meet employment and earnings tests, which require them to have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date and to have earned above a certain amount.

How shared parental leave works

SPL allows parents to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work, or they can take it all in one go. Parents can also choose to be off work together or to stagger their leave and pay.

Notification and booking process

Employers require eight weeks’ notice to book SPL. Employees must submit a written notice declaring their entitlement and an intention to take SPL. This notice must include specific information, including the start and end dates of the leave. Employees can submit up to three separate notices to book leave, allowing for flexibility.

Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP)

Statutory Shared Parental Pay is paid at the rate of £151.97 per week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. This is similar to the Statutory Maternity Pay after the first six weeks.

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FAQ for shared parental leave

Can SPL be taken at any time within the first year after the child’s birth or placement for adoption?

Yes, SPL can be started at any time within the first year. The only requirement is that any maternity or adoption leave is ended early to allow for SPL to begin.

Are there any restrictions on how SPL can be split between parents?

There are no specific restrictions on how parents divide their SPL, as long as they do not exceed the total amount of leave available. However, they must inform their employers of their plans through the notification process.

What happens if an employee’s partner does not meet the eligibility criteria for SPL?

If one parent does not meet the eligibility criteria, they cannot use SPL. However, the other parent might still be eligible for their own entitlement to maternity, paternity, or adoption leave and pay.

How do employers manage overlapping leave requests?

Employers should consider each request for SPL on a case-by-case basis, applying the same fairness and consistency as with other types of leave. If managing overlapping leave requests becomes challenging, employers can engage in a dialogue with their employees to find mutually beneficial arrangements.

Can an employee change their mind after booking SPL?

Yes, employees can change their leave plans if they give their employer at least eight weeks’ notice before the date they want to change.

Can both parents take SPL at the same time?

Yes, both parents can be on SPL simultaneously. This allows families to spend time together with their new child, although it will reduce the total period that SPL can be taken as both parents are using up their shared entitlement concurrently.

How does SPL affect an employee’s right to return to work?

Employees retain the right to return to the same job after SPL if they have taken a total of 26 weeks or less of maternity, paternity, and SPL combined. If more than 26 weeks of leave have been taken, they have the right to return to the same job, or if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job that has equivalent or better terms and conditions.

Are self-employed partners eligible for SPL?

A self-employed partner can’t take SPL themselves, but their working status could still enable the other parent to qualify for SPL if the self-employed parent meets certain income criteria and shares the main responsibility for the child.

How does SPL interact with other forms of leave, such as unpaid parental leave?

SPL is separate from unpaid parental leave. Unpaid parental leave is available for each child up to their 18th birthday, offering an additional way for parents to take leave. Employees can use both types of leave, but they are subject to different eligibility criteria and must be taken in accordance with the respective regulations.

What is the notice period for changing a SPL booking?

If parents wish to change an agreed period of SPL, they must give at least eight weeks’ notice before the original start date of the leave they are changing or eight weeks before the new start date, whichever is earlier.

Can SPL be extended beyond one year if not all the leave is taken?

No, SPL cannot extend beyond the first year after the child’s birth or placement for adoption. Any unused leave entitlement is lost after this point.

How are bank holidays treated during SPL?

Bank holidays are treated the same as during other types of leave. If a bank holiday falls during an employee’s SPL and the employee would normally have been off work, the employer can count this as part of the SPL entitlement.

What if an employee becomes pregnant while on SPL?

If an employee becomes pregnant while on SPL, they would be eligible for maternity leave for their new pregnancy. They should notify their employer according to the usual maternity leave notification requirements.

Can SPL be taken in more than three blocks?

Legally, employees are entitled to submit three notices to book leave or to change a booking. However, employers can choose to be more flexible and allow more blocks of leave if they wish.

How do employers handle SPL for employees who are in a surrogacy arrangement?

Employees who are intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement may be eligible for SPL if they meet the eligibility criteria for a parental order and intend to apply, or have applied, for a parental order for the child. They must also meet the other eligibility and notice requirements for SPL.

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