Traditionally, only the mother has been able to take any time off work as a primary caregiver. For the first time, new rights allow UK parents of children either adopted or newborn to co-parent by sharing up to 50 weeks of additional leave following the traditional two weeks immediately following birth or adoption. During that eligible first year, parents are not required to take leave jointly, rather, they may either take their leave together or at separate times. Who does it apply to? Employees who are adopting parents, same-sex couples, cohabitating parents from new or previous relationships.
Here are the main points that you need to know about family and employment law:
- Maternity Leave
As an employee, you are entitled to maternity leave regardless of your term of employment or pay level. You may begin your leave as early as 11 weeks prior to your expected date of childbirth or adoption. The Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks. It is a combination of ordinary maternity leave which is the first 26 weeks, and additional maternity leave, the last 26 weeks. Taking the full 52 weeks is not mandatory, but using the first two weeks following birth or adoption is required (or four weeks if you are a factory employee). Be mindful, as employees are required to tell their employer when they anticipate beginning their leave.
If you are giving birth, your leave will begin the day following the birth if you have not set the beginning date of your leave. Or, if a pregnancy-related medical issue arises, leave will begin four weeks before the week of your due date.
- Paternity Leave
If you are a father, husband, the child’s adopter or the intended parent (i.e. surrogacy), you are also entitled to a leave of absence. You may receive either one or two weeks’ leave. The same leave time is in place even with the birth of multiples. The entire leave must be taken as a block of time, must begin following the birth, and must end within 56 days of the birth.
The leave for a birth versus an adoption is somewhat different. Be aware that you are ineligible for leave if you have already taken time to attend adoption appointments. In order to be eligible for Paternity Leave, you must be an employee, been with the same employer for 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the week in which the child is due (or the week in which the adopter was notified of a match for adoption. For adoption, your Paternity Leave may begin on the date of placement or a pre-arranged date following the date of placement (this includes international adoptions), or the day the child is born (including surrogate parenting). Remember that you are required to give your employer 28 days’ advance notice if you propose a different start date. You are not eligible to use Paternity Leave if you use Shared Parental Leave.
- Shared Parental Leave
You may be eligible for Shared Parental Leave (SPL), which heralds a new era for eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters. It allows for shared time off following birth or adoption. Qualifying requires sharing parenting responsibilities with either your spouse, civil partner or joint adopter, the child’s other parents, or your partner (if you live together). You must also be an employee, and passing the continuity of employment check. This check verifies that the employee has been with the same employer for 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the week in which the child is due (or the week in which the adopter was notified of a match for adoption). The employee is also required to have worked for at least 26 weeks in the prior 66 weeks, earning above £30/week in 13 of those weeks. A worker or those who are self-employed are also eligible. SPL may be taken at any time beginning from the child’s born date/placement date and ending 52 weeks later. The leave may be taken in a block of time, or a proposed schedule broken up over time. The employer is not required to accept the broken up schedule, but is required to grant the block of time.
If the mother or father chooses to take SPL, they must stop using their maternity leave.
- Maternity Pay
A paid leave is Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). Eligible employees earn on average £112/week, have worked for same employer continuously for the previous 26 weeks. The week in which you may start your leave is the 15th week prior to the due date. For adoptions, leave begins when the child is identified as a match, arrives in the UK (international adoptions), or in the case of surrogacy, the day the child is born or the following day. SMP is still available if the baby is born early, is stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy, or dies following birth.
- Paternity Pay
Your rights are protected during your paternity leave. Your pay raises, holiday time off accrual, and the ability to return to your position are still in place during your leave. Included in those rights are time off for two antenatal appointments, or in the case of an adoption, time off to attend 2 adoption appointments.
Weekly paternity pay is 90% of your average weekly earnings or £139.58, whichever is lower. Payment is while on leave. You must earn at least £112/week before tax to qualify.
- Statutory Shared Parental Pay
Qualifying for Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) requires that you are with the same employer during your claim period, you’ve been working for at least 26 weeks, and you’ve earned at least £390 in 13 of the 66 weeks prior. You are eligible whether you’re an employee, worker or you’re self-employed. ShPP is 90% of $£139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
The key information to remember when going through the adoption process is that you must agree with your employer on how and when you will connect with them for a Keep in Touch Day. Employment terms and conditions are protected, and you are entitled to any pay increases or improvements made during your leave. A document for your employer is also required, the matching certificate from the adoption agency is acceptable if it is recognised in the UK.