Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Countdown to Shared Parental Leave

This month marks the beginning of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) for employees whose Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC) is on or after 5 April 2015. Pregnant employees now reaching that all-important 12 week stage, may be notifying their employers of their pregnancy. This means that employers may start to get questions about the operation of the new scheme.

Employees are not obliged to take up the option of SPL and the current scheme of 52 weeks’ Maternity Leave will remain the default position unless agreed otherwise.

SPL gives parents who meet the eligibility criteria more flexibility regarding the leave they take upon the birth or adoption of a child. Both parents essentially share a ‘pot’ of leave which can be taken in turns or at the same time. Mothers will still be required to take at least two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave immediately after the birth but the remaining time (a maximum of 50 weeks) can be shared by both parents as desired.

For the first time, weeks of the ‘pot’ of leave can be used simultaneously by both parents. SPL must be taken in complete weeks and can either be taken in a continuous period, which an employer cannot refuse, or in a discontinuous period, which the employer may be able to refuse.

To be eligible for SPL an employee must have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service at the end of the 15th week before the EWC.  The employee must still be employed in the first week that SPL is to be taken and must give sufficient notice of their intentions. To qualify for Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) they must also meet the same average earnings threshold as with Statutory Maternity Pay (currently £111 per week).

In addition to these criteria, the other parent must have worked for 26 weeks in the 66 weeks prior to the EWC and have earned a minimum of £30 in 13 of these 66 weeks.

The new regulations come into force on 1 December 2014, from when employees will have protection from any detriment or dismissal for a reason related to SPL.

The current general rule is that pregnant employees can begin their maternity leave up to 11 weeks before their EWC. This will also be the case with SPL, so for those first employees to whom SPL will apply, they will be able to begin their SPL on or after 18 January 2015.

Employers:  Contact is of us if you need assistance with an SPL request or drafting any of the letters.  You may need to add this new policy into your Company Handbooks.

Open Plan Offices

Open-plan offices can certainly take some getting used to, particularly if employees have had their own office.  Private offices are increasingly seen as a luxury of the past.  While many employers may wish to concentrate upon the benefits of open-plan working, especially when trying to ‘sell’ the idea to their employees, it would be worth highlighting some of the pitfalls – some obvious some less so.

Health & Safety – The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 have specific workplace duties in terms of dimensions and space, lighting, ventilation and temperature.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 – impose further duties in terms of noise levels – although it is unlikely that noise levels in a normal open-plan office would exceed the limits specified – nevertheless individual employees may still be unhappy with the level of noise – whether it be too much or too little (believe it or not some employees complain offices have become too quiet and gloomy).  Other employees who need to concentrate may complain of noise-related stress (and consequent illness).

Disruption: a move to an open-plan office might create a working environment that is unduly disruptive and could be unsuitable for certain types of employee in the performance of their duties.  If an employee is unable to concentrate and the employer does not manage the situation there is a risk the employee may resign and claim unfair constructive dismissal.  In the case of Dunne-Smith v London Borough of Greenwich an employee successfully claimed unfair constructive dismissal after a move to an open-plan office when the employer did nothing to remedy the noise, distracting and intimidating environment.

  • Harassment: with employees working in closer proximity there have been higher incidences of harassment as it is the employer’s duty to provide reasonable support to enable employees to carry out their duties without harassment or disruption from colleagues.
  • Contractual right to an office?  Employees who have habitually worked in their own offices might potentially have a case for arguing that it is an implied term of their contract (ie by virtue of custom and practice).  So far this argument has remained untested in the courts.

Employers: It is accepted that the points cited are likely at the extreme end but it is worth bearing in mind if you are considering a change to a open-plan office to consult with your employees beforehand and consider their concerns when you have moved.