Employment Changes on the Horizon- New Rights to Shared Parental Leave for Working Parents.

11 September 2014

Author: Orlagh O'Neill
Practice Area: Employment Law


The Northern Ireland Executive plans to introduce new legislation to make workplaces more flexible and accommodating to working parents. One of the most important changes proposed is that of shared parental leave. The Executive consulted with the public and key stake holders regarding the proposals in 2013. It is expected that changes will come into effect here by May 2015.

In summary the proposals regarding shared parental leave are as follows:-

  • The current entitlement to 52 weeks of maternity leave (39 weeks paid) will remain as the default position for all employed women, as will the compulsory maternity period of 2 weeks;
  • The new system will allow qualifying parents to share between them up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay (that is everything, other than the compulsory maternity leave period).  The mother will be able to commit to ending her maternity leave on a particular date, and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay with her partner;
  • Administrative arrangements will be “light touch”.  It will be up to the employees to propose the pattern of leave that they wish to take and to discuss this with their individual employers;
  • Parents will be able to take shared parental leave at the same time as each other or separately.  The leave may be taken in small blocks of no less than one week rather than all in one go;
  • However, employers will not be obliged to agree to the shared parental leave pattern proposed by their employees.  The default position where agreement cannot be reached will be for a parent’s portion of leave to be taken in one continuous block, to start on the date of their choice;
  • The parents’ respective employers will not need to contact each other to discuss their employee’s leave entitlement.

The legislation to establish shared parental leave will be implemented via the Work and Families Bill which was introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 28th April 2014. The second stage debate took place in May 2014. On 17th June the Assembly considered and agreed a motion to extend the Committee Stage of the Bill until 30th November 2014.

It will remain to be seen whether this newly proposed scheme for shared parental leave will be successful in practice. It is bound to present organisational headaches for employers especially if both parents work for the same company. The key will be to ensure that employees discuss their plans with their employer as early as possible.

If you wish to discuss further details on the proposed changes please contact any member of the Employment Team