David Cameron has indicated that he could look at plans to allow parents to transfer part of their family-friendly leave to grandparents. Liam Lane, solicitor at Brodies LLP, looks at the potential for extending family-friendly rights to cover grandparental leave.
Flexible working – a possible starting point?
Grandparents to share parental leave?
David Cameron this week said he would look at Labour proposals for grandparents to share up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave.
Every employee who has a child under the age of 18 has the legal right to take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave before, or on the date of, the child’s 18th birthday. ‘Ordinary’ parental leave is distinct from shared parental leave.
Prior to 30 June 2014, the right to request flexible working was restricted to mothers, fathers, adopters, guardians and foster parents (and their partners), meaning that the majority of grandparents were not eligible.
Since 30 June 2014, however, virtually all employees (provided they have 26 weeks’ continuous service) have been entitled to make a flexible working request. Flexible working comes in many forms – including part-time hours, flexitime, working from home and term-time working – and it seems that it could help at least some grandparents participate in caring for their grandchildren.
There are limitations to the right, however, which means it might not suit all grandparents. In particular, there is no automatic entitlement to be granted flexible working. An employer can refuse a request on a number of grounds, such as the burden of additional costs or the inability to reorganise work between existing staff. Granting a request also amounts to a contractual variation of an employee’s terms and conditions, and some grandparents may be put off by the potential permanence of such a move.
Shared parental leave
Shared parental leave is available to parents of children expected to be born on or after 5 April 2015 (or adopters having a child placed for adoption with them on or after 5 April 2015. This allows a child’s mother to shorten her statutory maternity leave, so that the child’s other parent can share the balance of the leave (with similar provisions applying to adoptive parents).
Grandparental leave: current options for employees
It seems possible that this system could be extended to allow grandparents to share the leave. This could help grandparents who wish to take over the care of a baby or recently-adopted child, in order to allow the parents to return to work as soon as possible.
A common concern about the new system, however, is that sharing leave is complicated to organise in practice (particularly if the child’s parents have different employers). Increasing the number of people who are entitled to a share would confuse matters further. In addition, the system might not be appropriate for grandparents who wish to contribute to their grandchild’s care but are unwilling to reduce the amount of leave available to the child’s parents.
Extending the existing right to “ordinary” parental leave
Another possibility is to extend the existing system of “ordinary” parental leave (which is unrelated to shared parental leave) to cover grandchildren. Qualifying employees who have parental responsibility for a child receive a “bank” of 18 weeks’ unpaid leave, which they can use up until the child’s 18th birthday.
An entitlement to leave of this kind may be particularly useful for grandparents who wish to look after their grandchildren for short periods, rather than take on responsibility for their long-term care. An example could be when grandparents look after their grandchildren to allow the children’s parents to go on holiday.
A possible issue with extending the system, however, is that parents are currently granted 18 weeks’ leave per child. Employers may therefore have concerns that grandparents with large families would gain a large amount of leave.
Grandparental leave: approaches in other countries
Another potential hurdle is that an employee’s entitlement to ordinary parental leave is based on the concept of “parental responsibility” for a child, meaning that the majority of grandparents are not currently eligible. In order to allow grandparents to access the system, it might be necessary to develop a new concept of “grandparental responsibility”.
It remains to be seen whether or not a new right to grandparental leave will be introduced. Given the UK’s ageing workforce, however, it seems probable that the debate will remain.
This article was originally published on 19 August 2014. It was updated on 12 June 2015 following indications that the Government could look at introducing grandparental leave.