NEW regulations on sharing parental leave could prove a minefield for small firms throughout the West Midlands, a legal expert has warned.
The new rules will allow employees to choose how they share a total of up to 50 weeks of maternity leave – including paid leave of 37 weeks – between fathers and mothers.
The extra leeway is on top of the two weeks which must be taken by the mother.
But Darryll Thomas, head of employment law at the Solihull office of law firm The Wilkes Partnership, warned of potential difficulties ahead.
“This will create issues for smaller businesses, especially where key employees are concerned,” said Mr Thomas.
Employees, who must have been in their jobs for 26 weeks to claim the rights, have to declare their intentions eight weeks before the leave starts and there are other restrictions written into the new rules.
Employers can insist that leave has to be taken in single blocks rather than intermittent periods. However, they are not allowed to reject requests for continuous periods of parental leave and employees will be able to change their plans once or twice during their leave.
Employees will retain the right to return to the employer’s business, to the same job where the leave is six months or less or to a similar role in other circumstances.
Shared parental leave came into force on October 1 and will apply to babies whose adoption or expected week of birth is on or after April 5 next year.
“The changes brought in by the new regulations are designed to give parents more flexibility. The challenge for employers is that they will have to cover the effects of that flexibility and there could be a significant financial impact for a small business.
“Initially, employers may find it difficult to take on board the fact that key male employees may seek extended leave for family reasons and they need to plan for this as early as possible.
“Employers are advised to hold consultations with employees as early as possible, so interests of business are protected as far as possible, while rights of employees are also protected.”