Employment Law - Statutory shared parental leave

Traditionally, only a mother who has given birth has the option to take paid time off work to look after a newborn.

But with Shared Parental Leave (SPL), eligible parents of all newborns and adopted children born or adopted on or after 5 April 2015 can spend quality time with their child in those exciting first few months. Our employment solicitors explain exactly how shared parental leave works.

Understanding shared parental leave

Shared parental leave allows a second person (a married partner, a civil partner or partner to the mother) to share 50 weeks of additional leave, which would have otherwise only be used by the mother as maternity leave.

It is worth mentioning that shared parental leave does not change the existing maternity and paternity leave. For example, it does not replace the two weeks of leave that a mother who has given birth receives following the birth of her child (four weeks for factory workers). It also does not change the one or two weeks’ paid paternity leave. However, it does replace ‘additional’ maternity and paternity leave.

The 50 weeks of shared parental leave – of which 37 weeks is paid – are only applicable to parents who meet the eligibility criteria, and can only be used during the first year of the child’s birth or adoption.

Why does shared parental leave matter?

The law reflects the modern roles of women and mothers, allowing them the choice to return to their careers earlier if they want to, giving the new dads a greater share of childcare. It is designed to let two people ‘take turns’ in looking after a newborn, or helping an adopted child adapt to the new surroundings and familial structure.

At present, the UK government is trying to raise awareness of shared parental leave, as current statistics show that less than 10,000 parents used the scheme in the last tax year. Experts argue that the low uptake is indicative of the gender pay gap. This may be due to many families relying on the higher income of men, which would likely lead to a significant reduction in household income if shared parental leave was used – thus making it an unappealing option when compared to maternity leave.

How it works

The parents are able to split up the 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between each other in a flexible manner.

For example, a mother may want to return to work after 16 weeks of maternity leave (equating to two mandatory weeks + 14 additional weeks). This would leave 36 weeks of leave which can be shared between the mother and her spouse/partner.

This flexibility allows, for example, the mother to return to work if there is a busy period expected in her workplace without having to worry about the care of the child during that period.

It is worth noting that not all leave has to be taken in one block. Rather, parents can book up to three blocks of leave during the child’s first year – but they must give employers at least eight weeks’ notice before any block of leave to ensure that the request is not rejected.


This is where things can get a bit complicated as there is different criteria for birth parents and adoptive parents.

For birth parents, this gov.uk page lists three scenarios: both parents want to share the SPL and ShPP (Statutory Shared Parental Pay), the mother wants to take the SPL and ShPP, or the mother’s partner/spouse wants to take the SPL and ShPP.

For adoptive parents, they must show that they share responsibility for the child and meet the work and earnings criteria as listed on this gov.uk page.

Self-employed fathers aren’t eligible for shared parental leave. However, a self-employed mother who qualifies for maternity allowance (up to £140.98 a week for 39 weeks) can use the maternity allowance or exchange it for shared parental leave and pay for her employed spouse/partner.

Can your employer refuse your request for shared parental leave?

If you are a new parent and plans to take shared parental leave, you must give your employer eight weeks’ notice. If an employee requests leave for one continuous block or period of time, the employer cannot dispute or deny this – even if that period happens during an inconvenient time for the employer.

However, if an employee requests their leave in multiple blocks (examples: one week in May, two weeks in June and one week in August), the employer can refuse the request and suggest dates that are more suited.

If you feel that you have faced shared parental leave discrimination or have been unfairly dismissed due to shared parental leave, use our free initial consultation to talk to us about your situation today.

Returning to employment after shared parental leave

As an employee, you have the right to return to the job that you have left, although it doesn’t mean that role remains the same. In your absence, the company may make some changes to your role and you may return to a new set of responsibilities.

Contact Foys today

At Foys, our team of employment solicitors have helped many employees with their employment rights throughout South Yorkshire.

Get in touch using our Online Form – or call your local Foys Solicitors office:

  • Doncaster – 01302 327 136
  • Retford – 01777 703 100
  • Worksop – 01909 500 511
  • Clowne – 01246 810 050
  • Rotherham – 01709 375 561
  • Sheffield (Waterthorpe) – 0114 251 1702
  • Sheffield (Chapeltown) – 0114 246 7609

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This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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