Under guidelines published by the Department of Trade and Industry, which stem from an EU directive, employees will be entitled to 13 weeks unpaid leave for each child in their care born or adopted on or after tomorrow.
Under the proposals, the 13 week parental leave can be taken any time up until the child's fifth birthday.
The government has said that employers and employees can agree their own procedures for taking parental leave. But, according to Jayne Gooch, head of personnel management service at Grant Thornton, such agreements are onlylikely to apply if they are included in the employees' contracts of employment.
'The government has announced a fallback scheme which is expected to apply automatically where employers and their employees have no formal agreement,' said Gooch.'This states that, in the majority of cases, leave must be taken in blocks ormultiples of one week. Given the fact that parental leave is unpaid, some employees may choose not to take it up, however the fear is that a number of parents may use it to extend existing holiday entitlement at key times of theyear - such as Christmas - which could leave smaller businesses in particularvery short-staffed.'
The fallback scheme proposes that 21 days' notice should be given of any intended leave and does offer provision for the employer to postpone any leave for up to six months where the business would be particularly disrupted.
But, said Gooch, if you have a number of parents putting in notice leave at thesame time, how do you decided whose absence would cause least disruption?
'My advice to employers is to review contracts of employment to ensure that terms regarding parental leave are included,' she said. 'This could includelimiting the number of employees who can take parental leave at the same timeand, if need be, ruling out certain times of the year.'
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