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Government to introduce new leave rights that will provide greater flexibility for parents as to how they use maternity and paternity leave.

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Please note that this article is prepared with the aim of providing general information only, and does not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. Government to introduce new leave rights that will provide greater flexibility for parents as to how they use maternity and paternity leave. The government are set to make changes to the current maternity and paternity leave legislation, which will allow for a greater balance between your career and family life. The parental leave system in Estonia is widely approved for its flexibility and the extended period of leave, with a maximum of three years, during which the employer holds the job for the employee. Indeed, 455 days of the total leave are fully compensated at a rate of 100% of the worker's salary. And, if you were under the impression that Estonia was an anomaly you would be wrong, as countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway all rank above the United Kingdom with higher levels of both paid maternity and paternity leave. Currently in the UK, employed fathers are entitled to two weeks paid paternity leave and mothers 52 weeks maternity leave, of which upto 39 weeks is paid. Employed parents are also entitled to 13 weeks unpaid parental leave until the child's fifth birthday. In light of this, many critics feel that in order to achieve a better work and family balance, greater flexibility should be introduced to the UK parental leave scheme. The Government is set to react to these criticisms with a new approach that has been designed to tackle such issues, with the introduction of what they describe as a "further family friendly policy". Subject to consultation and parliamentary procedure the government intends, that by April 3rd 2011, parents will have the option to transfer upto six months of leave to the father, to be taken once the mother has returned to work. With three months of the father's entitlement being paid, this new provision will essentially give parents the option of dividing their period of 12 months paid entitlement between them. This has also been seen as an important step in eradicating the gender age gap and allowing fathers to become more involved with dependants at an early age. However, many have criticised this approach, arguing that an increase in paternity rights is a far cry from the government's previous pledge to extend maternity pay from nine months to a year, alongside the new proposal. One potential issue with the introduction of a more flexible UK parental scheme, is the degree to which it will affect businesses. The problem facing most organaisations is how the new rules will be implemented and the way in which they should deal with extra paternal leave requests when they occur. It remains to be seen how such legislation is to work in practice and the implications this may have on businesses. The British Chambers of Commerce has also expressed concern with the government choosing to implement the plan just as firms are struggling in the downturn. However, it is estimated that take-up of additional paternity leave will be less than 6% and this in turn will only affect 0.7%, or 1 in every 137, of all small businesses. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has pledged to work with businesses and ensure that the changes are introduced in a way that minimise burdens, especially as there is no absolute guarantee that the UK economy will be back to full health by the time the changes are implemented in 2011. The employment team at Gepp & Sons deals with a wide range of Human Resource and employment issues to support and protect both employers and employees. If you would like any advice on the issues raised within this article please call Alexandra Dean on 01245 228141.