Grandparental leave is on the way. What do employers need to know?

In proposals announced affecting employment law, by the then Chancellor George Osborne in 2015, plans to extend shared parental leave to grandparents could be in place by 2018 (this is obviously relevant to people in the Stockport area). Currently under consultation, the extension of the current shared parental leave (SPL) rules would allow mothers the option to share maternity leave with one nominated working grandparent.   Under the current policy, mothers are allowed to allocate a portion of their maternity leave (or adoptive leave) to their partner, usually the child’s other parent, to allow them to return to work sooner.   There is quite a lot of flexibility within this and the time off (for up to a total of 12 months) can be divided in any way parents choose following the mandatory 2 weeks of leave the mother must take after the child’s birth. For example, the leave period could overlap should the parents choose – so both get 6 months off together with the baby.  Alternatively, the time can be split between the parents to cover a full year, or even taken in discontinuous blocks to allow parents to return to work for certain key projects and then go on leave again.   Although the current SPL rules sparked a lot of concern amongst employers when introduced in April 2015, with many worried about the practicality of the changes and how they would manage an ‘influx’ of requests for shared leave, the reality of the situation has been quite different in practice. In the first 3 months of 2016 HMRC data showed that only 3,000 couples took SPL; equating to only 2 per cent of those families in which the mother took maternity leave during this time.   Whether the same will happen so far as grandparental leave is concerned is currently unknown. Many more people are now working well into their 50s, 60s and even 70s, meaning the pool of the workforce to which the new rules could potentially apply is significant.   So what should employers do in preparation?   Whilst still under consultation, the details of exactly how shared grandparental leave will work are sketchy. However, it is widely considered that the rules will be similar to those under SPL.   One of the major concerns for employers is the additional administrative burden that could be created; the existing SPL rules have been widely criticised for their complexity and it is hoped that as part of the government’s current consultation, the overall process of implementing shared parental leave will become easier for businesses to execute.   Another consideration for employers will be whether they look to enhance grandparental leave policies as a means of improving their benefits package to employees. Whilst businesses generally haven’t been quick to do this for SPL, with the option now being extended to more family members, it may be that additional benefits outside of statutory requirements (similar to those often offered to mothers during maternity leave) will become a more important consideration for retaining and attracting staff.   It will be interesting to see how grandparental leave will be received and whether there will be a greater or lesser appetite for the new policy than the low levels of uptake seen for SPL.  With all qualifying workers entitled to request (but not necessarily receive) flexible working arrangements, it may be that grandparents choose to opt for this route as opposed to taking up grandparental leave rights, therefore creating a longer term solution to helping out with childcare rather than the 12 months allowable under SPL.   If you would like more information about any of the issues covered in this bulletin, please email either: Pam McColl or Amanda Isherwood or call us on 0161 312 1864. We are situated in Bramhall, Stockport, Cheshire and are happy to give employment advice to Greater Manchester employees and employers, including Cheadle Hulme, Poynton, Hazel Grove, and others.