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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges

Shared parental leave

Shared parental leave provides parents with more flexibility in childcare.

This information will be useful for those involved in either drafting or reviewing an institution’s shared parental leave policy. It will also be useful for staff who are involved in advancing equality and diversity within their organisation, for example through supporting their university’s work on Athena SWAN.


Shared parental leave regulations came into force in the UK on 1 December 2014. The purpose of shared parental leave is to provide parents with more flexibility in how they manage the care of their child during the first year of birth or adoption.

Shared parental leave can be used alongside, or instead of, maternity and adoption leave.

When he introduced the changes then deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated that shared parental leave is designed to ‘challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home’.

How does shared parental leave work? >

Shared parental leave needs to be taken within the child’s first year, or within one year of adoption.

Mothers/primary adopters opt out of the maternity/adoption leave system, and into shared parental leave. Once they have done this they can then choose with their partner how they split the remainder of the leave (52 weeks minus any weeks of maternity/adoption leave taken by the mother/adopter), in agreement with their employers.

Given that the initial two weeks of maternity leave are compulsory (or four weeks for those working in a factory) this means that in reality there are 50 weeks available for shared parental leave. An adopter can end their adoption leave after two weeks and opt into shared parental leave.

The mother or adopter does not need to opt into the shared parental leave system before the baby is born – they can inform their employer that they are opting into shared parental leave later, ie during maternity/adoption leave.

Mothers/adopters and their partners can take leave either concurrently or separately.

What does this mean for paternity leave? >

Fathers and partners (including civil partners) of mothers and adopters continue to have the right to two weeks’ statutory paternity leave and pay. This is in addition to any shared parental leave they choose to take.

The introduction of shared parental leave means that additional paternity leave has been abolished. However, institutions will continue to have members of staff taking additional paternity leave until sometime in 2016. This is because parents whose babies’ due dates were before 5 April 2015 are not entitled to shared parental leave.

Institutions will need to give consideration to phasing out data-gathering around additional paternity leave but will need to be able to gather data on both employees taking additional paternity leave and those taking shared parental leave until sometime in 2016.

What does this mean for adoption? >

Parents adopting children are also entitled to shared parental leave, no matter the age of the child they are adopting.

The right to statutory adoption leave and pay is unaffected by shared parental leave.

What is the timeline to qualify for shared parental leave? >

Parents are entitled to shared parental leave if their baby is due on or after 5th April 2015. Parents who adopt a baby on or after 5th April 2015 are also entitled to shared parental leave.

This means that staff in universities will be operating under different systems into 2016, depending on their babies’ due dates.

What is the difference between continuous and discontinuous leave? >

Parents who are eligible for shared parental leave can request to take either continuous or discontinuous periods of leave.

If an employee requests continuous shared parental leave, the employer must grant the request.

Discontinuous leave enables parents to take interspersed periods of work and leave during the first year of their child’s life (or within one year of adoption). The minimum length for a period of shared parental leave is one week. However, the employer is not obliged to agree to periods of discontinuous leave.

What are SPLIT days? >

Parents are entitled to book up to 20 Shared Parental Leave in Touch (SPLIT) days during their shared parental leave.

During any period of shared parental leave, an employer may make reasonable contact with an employee and, in the same way, an employee may make contact with their employer. What constitutes 'reasonable' contact will vary according to the circumstances and should be discussed before a period of shared parental leave begins.

The frequency and nature of the contact will depend on a number of factors such as:

  • the nature of the work and the employee's post
  • any agreement that employer and employee might have reached before shared parental leave began about contact
  • whether either party needs to communicate important information to the other, such as news of changes at the workplace that might affect the employee on their return.

SPLIT days allow work to be carried out under the employee's contract of employment, and the employee is entitled to be paid for that work. Both parents are entitled to 20 SPLIT days each, which can be worked without bringing their shared parental leave or pay to an end.

SPLIT days are available in addition to the mother’s/adopter’s keep in touch (KIT) days. KIT days can only be used during a period of maternity/adoption leave, and unused KIT entitlement cannot be carried forward into a period of shared parental leave.

What is the entitlement to Shared Parental Pay? >

Parents are also entitled to statutory shared parental pay for up to 39 weeks, minus any maternity/adoption pay that the mother/adopter has received.

Given that there are two weeks of compulsory maternity/adoption leave, ultimately 37 weeks of statutory shared parental pay will be available.

Does my institution need to enhance shared parental pay? >

The shared parental leave legislation does not require employers to pay employees anything more than statutory pay. Nevertheless, if the legislation is to achieve its purpose – of providing parents with more choice and flexibility about how they share childcare – it will require employers to offer the same level of enhanced pay to employees taking shared parental leave as those taking maternity/adoption leave.

Legal commentators have also raised questions about whether employers not enhancing shared parental pay to the same level as maternity pay could be open to legal challenge.

A number of employers have committed to enhancing shared parental pay in line with maternity pay, including Brunel University.

Is this relevant to ECU's Athena SWAN Charter? >

Yes. Institutions and departments applying for awards using the post-May 2015 criteria will be asked to provide information on their shared parental leave policies as well as uptake of shared parental leave. More information can be found in the Athena SWAN handbook.

What changes need to be made to our equality monitoring? >

Institutions need to consider changing their staff records and equality monitoring questions in order to accurately capture information about the uptake of shared parental leave.

It is important that institutions gather accurate information about the parental leave arrangement of their staff as this will provide valuable insights from an equality perspective.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency is adapting its staff record return in order to enable institutions to report on uptake of the different types of leave available to parents.

Key points for consideration:

Maternity/adoption leave and shared parental leave:

The introduction of shared parental leave means that an employee is able to take shared parental leave alongside other forms of leave. In order to gather accurate information, data gathering systems will therefore need to allow employee records to show a combination of different forms of leave.