What you need to know about the Work and Families (NI) Act 2015

The Work and Families (NI) Act deals with voluntary sharing of leave and pay after the birth or adoption of a child as well as extending the right to request flexible working to all.

You may have heard about the Work and Families (NI) Act in the news recently, mainly reporting on shared parental leave and pay. The intention is to allow families more choice over how they look after their children in the first year. The article below aims to pull out some of the key points in the legislation and where further guidance can be obtained.

Five key changes for organisations and employees
The Work and Families (Northern Ireland) Act 2015, takes effect on 5 April 2015 and the key changes brought about by the Act are listed below:

  1. Flexible working - the right to request flexible working is extended to all employees who meet the service criteria (which previously was a right only for parents of children of a certain age and carers)
  2. Shared parental leave and pay - parents can voluntarily choose to share parental leave and pay following the birth or adoption of a child
  3. Additional paternity leave and pay - it abolishes the right to additional paternity leave and pay which is replaced by the right to shared parental leave and pay
  4. Statutory adoption leave and pay - adoption leave will become a right from day one where applicable and the first six weeks of statutory adoption pay will be paid at 90% of the employee's normal earnings, bringing it in-line with maternity pay
  5. Introductory meetings and ante-natal appointments - the Act facilitates paid time off work for primary adopters to attend up to five introductory meetings before a child is placed with them for adoption; and unpaid time off for secondary adopters to attend two such meetings. A similar right to take unpaid time off work is provided for the partners of new mothers to attend ante-natal appointments.
  6. Fostering/surrogacy - provision is made allowing foster parents who are a child’s intended adoptive parents to access adoption pay and leave, and intended parents in surrogacy arrangements to avail of paternity and adoption leave and pay.

What do the changes mean in practice?
Organisational policies and practices should be amended, updated or rewritten by 5 April 2015 to reflect the changes and two of the important aspects are highlighted below:

1. Flexible working - employers will need to amend flexible working policies to include the extension of the right to all employees to request flexible working. Prior to 5 April 2015, only parents of children under 17 or disabled children under 18, or those caring for an adult can request flexible working. The service criteria of 26 weeks' continuous service with the employer at the time of applying remains, meaning that any employee meeting this criteria can make one statutory request in a 12 month period to work flexibly.

2. Shared parental leave and pay - employers should develop a shared parental leave and pay policy. There is no change to the requirement for every mother to take two weeks' compulsory maternity leave after the baby is born. If an employee is eligible and they or their partner end maternity or adoption leave early, then they can take up to a maximum of 50 weeks as shared parental leave and up to a maximum of 37 weeks as statutory shared parental pay. If both parents are taking shared parental leave then they can take their leave at the same time as each other or at different times. 

Work and Families (NI) Act 2015 - Update 27 March 2015
Remember that this piece of legislation comes into effect in Northern Ireland on 5 April 2015. It is complex and a lot for employers and employees to take in. The LRA (Labour Relations Agency) has recently published guidance on the topic along with a sample Shared Parental Leave policy which many employers will find extremely helpful given the complexity of the workings of shared parental leave and pay. The guidance section below has been updated to include links to these useful documents.

What guidance is available on the changes?
1. Flexible working - The LRA has produced a helpful information note for use from April 2015 on up to date guidance incorporating the changes available on the LRA website.

2. Shared parental leave and pay - The LRA has published guidance, and a sample policy on their website.  Also employers can follow the information and guidance on the NIBusinessinfo website.


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