Our legal experts Baines Wilson advise on family friendly policies.

A more flexible system has been introduced to allow both parents to take leave on the birth or adoption of a child. The new system of Shared Parental Leave came into force on 01 December 2014 and will be available to parents of children due to be born or placed for adoption with them on or after 5 April 2015.

Eligible parents under the new system will be able to share up to 50 weeks of leave to care for their child during the first year after birth, with up to 37 weeks statutory shared parental pay. The right to unpaid parental leave will also be extended to parents of all children under 18 as of 5 April 2015.

Adopters will no longer require 26 weeks’ service before they become entitled to adoption leave. Adoption pay will be brought in line with maternity pay, which will be 90 per cent of normal earnings for the first 6 weeks, and current adoption rights will be extended to couples fostering children as part of a Fostering for Adoption placement run by local authorities.

Every employee also now has the statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks’ employment service. The request does not have to be granted: however employers are under a duty to deal with any such request reasonably and can only refuse it if there is a business reason for doing so, which must be one of eight statutory reasons.

To attract women to senior roles, employers should consider advertising those roles with the possibility of them being worked part-time, or at least be aware of the right to make such a request. There are many forms of flexible working, it can relate to the place of work, for example home working, or hours of work such as part time, flexi time or even job sharing.

It is also anticipated that in autumn 2015 a new tax-free childcare scheme will be introduced under which working families will be able to claim back 20% of qualifying childcare costs for children under 5 (and children with disabilities under 17). It is envisaged that the scheme will provide up to £2,000 per year for each child.

This is significant given that child-care costs have been identified as key to reducing the gender gap at the top of UK companies. Qualifying employees are now also entitled to accompany a pregnant woman to up to two antenatal appointments, subject to certain criteria.

For help and advice in relation to dealing with shared parental leave, flexible working, policies and procedures or if you have any other employment law queries, please contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.