One of the ‘selling points’ of shared parental leave, as far as employees are concerned, is the flexibility on offer. For example, it’s possible to take leave at the same time as their partner, or to take some leave and then go back to work for a bit and then take some more later.
This all sounds great for employees but a potential headache for employers, particularly in terms of covering absent members of staff. So are there any circumstances under which you can refuse an employee’s request to take shared parental leave?
If the employee is requesting a period of continuous leave, then as long as they have met the eligibility criteria, made the appropriate declarations and given the correct period of notice, then you have to agree it, just as you would if an employee notified you that they were going to take maternity leave.
However if an employee requests discontinuous leave (i.e. leave over a period of time with breaks between the leave during which the employee returns to work), you are entitled to refuse that.
Obviously good employers will try to accommodate if they can, and ideally if an employee thinks they would like to take discontinuous leave they will have approached you early on, to discuss with you what may or may not work for the business. Doing this of course means you are more likely to be in a position to agree the formal request when it comes, so encouraging employees to start dialogue with you early on makes sense for everyone. Employees who do want to take discontinuous leave are also probably hoping their partner will be able to do the same, which is another reason early conversations with both employers makes sense.
If you do get a request for discontinuous leave which you are unable to agree, you should arrange a meeting with the employee who has made the request and talk about it with them, ideally seeking to reach agreement about a compromise or alternative option. You should then confirm the outcome to the employee, including confirming the refusal, confirming any agreed modifications if that was the outcome of the meeting, or setting out the employee’s options if no modifications were agreed.
Technically you are not required to confirm refusal, and the employee should take a failure to respond to a request for discontinuous leave as refusal, however clearly this would not be good practice at all, and is only likely to lead to a deterioration in relations with the employee, and also a need to respond anyway as they follow up their request seeking a response.
If you do refuse (or fail to respond to) a notification for discontinuous leave, the ‘default provision’ will then apply. This means the employee can withdraw their request for discontinuous leave, or, if they don’t, the discontinuous leave notification automatically defaults to a period of continuous leave instead. The employee can choose when the continuous leave starts (as long as they would still have given 8 weeks’ notice), or, if they do not choose, the period of continuous leave will automatically start on the date the employee wanted their discontinuous leave to start.
If you would like more information on how to proceed with a request for shared parental leave do get in touch.