Instead of working parents having their patterns of inflexible leave prescribed to them, planned changes to the system in 2015 will mean that they are much more in control over how and when they take leave after a baby is born. The government believes that the current system of time off to care for a child when it is first born is a barrier to parents’ ability to share leave in the first year of the baby’s life. Clearly, more flexibility for employees means more red tape and administration for employers. More significantly, the changes to maternity and paternity leave – renamed ‘flexible parental leave’ – will mean that employers may be in a position where they have to manage extremely intermittent attendance at work by working parents. ‘Flexible parental leave’ should not be confused with the current entitlement for working parents to take ‘parental leave’, usually an unpaid maximum of 4 weeks per year, to a maximum of 13 weeks during the first 5 years of the child’s life. Currently, when an employee takes maternity leave, she takes it in one block for a period of up to 52 weeks. Many employees take less than the full entitlement, but regardless of the amount of leave, it is all taken in one block which means her employer has a consistent period of absence to manage, meaning work is shared out amongst other staff or a replacement is drafted in. The changes will mean that a mother and father will be able to take a total of 52 weeks between them and break down the leave how they wish provided it is taken in minimum periods of at least one week after the mother has taken her compulsory leave. They will be able to take their leave at the same time, which currently is not possible. If it suits, they could alternate single weeks at work between them. Employers will, the government says, benefit from women having a stronger attachment to the workplace. The leave pattern will be subject to agreement between employer and employee and, in the event that no agreement can be reached, the leave defaults to a single block to begin on a date specified by the employee. At no time will the employers of the respective parents need to contact each other to establish entitlement to their employees’ leave. The details on the administration of the leave are yet to be finalised by the government but we will make you aware of these when they become available. For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.