Adopting a child

When
friends were adopting a child in mid-1999, it struck me that at the time, there
was no right in law for time off when the adoption occurred. I was reduced to
suggesting to my friends that they negotiate some time off, hoping their
employer would be sympathetic, or, at the very worst, take holiday. Such a
state of affairs was, of course, detrimental not only to the adopting parents
but also to the child coming into their family.

The
position changed in December 1999, when the law relating to parental leave came
into force. Briefly, under the parental leave scheme, adoptive parents with one
year’s continuous service can take up to four weeks a year unpaid leave
provided proper notice is given to the employer of the leave dates and, if
required, evidence of the ‘parental responsibility’.

Employers
have a right to postpone parental leave in certain circumstances for business
reasons. Even in that case, however, only four weeks is available per year and
the leave is unpaid, unless the employer chooses to be generous.

The
new Employment Bill

Clearly,
lobbying on behalf of adoptive parents has been successful. The Government is
now proposing, as part of the Employment Bill announced in November 2001, to
introduce a scheme analogous to the new scheme it is proposing for maternity
leave. From April 2003 (the target date for implementation) the Government is
proposing to allow adoptive parents with six months’ service the right for one
of the adoptive parents to take up to 52 weeks adoption leave, with statutory
adoption pay available at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay. This will
be payable for 26 weeks provided that the adoptive parent’s earnings are over
the lower earnings limit. The target rate of statutory adoption pay will be
£100 per week.

The
Government also intends to allow the ‘other’ adoptive parent (i.e. the one who
has not opted for adoption leave) to take statutory paternity leave, at or
around the time of the adoption. This will be two weeks paid leave in the first
eight weeks of having the adopted child, in exactly the same way that statutory
paternity leave will work for natural fathers.

Again,
statutory paternity pay will be available at the SMP rate provided that the
individual’s income is over the lower earnings limit. Six months service will
be required before the adoptive parent becomes eligible to take this leave.

Conclusion

The
above package amounts to a complete change in the way adoptive parents are
treated for employment law purposes since 1998 –  from no rights at all to parity with natural mothers and fathers.
Whether these changes will have any impact on the numbers of couples opting to
adopt remains to be seen.

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