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Flexible parental leave plans to give working families a boost

Parental leave is to be reformed to make it easier for women to share childcare responsibilities with their partners, under proposals recently released by the Government. From 2015, once a mother has taken two weeks' maternity leave, the remaining 50 weeks can be shared flexibly with her partner. The plans allow them to take the leave in turns, in blocks or together, but for no more than 12 months in total and with no more than 9 months at statutory pay.

Parents will be asked to be as 'open' as possible about their intentions and give employers 'proper notice' so that the administrative burden can be minimised.

Other changes include the right for men to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments. But earlier plans to increase paternity leave from two weeks have been postponed until 2018 for further review, following concerns from business leaders that it would be too much of a burden in the present economic climate.

The current system gives partners the option of taking 26 weeks of additional leave, but 20 weeks after the child's birth and only once the mother has returned to work within her maternity leave period. Government research found that 40 per cent of fathers couldn't afford to take any paternity leave at all.

Commentators have said that the introduction of flexible parental leave could encourage a cultural change and shift perceptions about women's relationship to the workplace and men's to childcare. It was suggested that this may help redress longstanding problems of the gender pay gap and the lack of women in senior executive roles. Others pointed to the benefits of flexible working in how it helps employers 'attract, retain and motivate a more diverse workforce'.

Acas provides detailed advice on Paternity leave and pay and runs practical training courses on Maternity, paternity and adoption, giving a comprehensive overview of everything to do with family-related policies.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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