With only eight weeks left to go, Acas is advising parents with babies due on or after 5 April 2015 to start talking to their employers now if they want to take advantage of the new shared parental leave scheme (SPL).

Under the scheme, working couples will be able to share up to 50 weeks’ maternity leave and 37 weeks’ pay, after an initial two-week leave period that mothers have to take after the birth. The pattern of leave must be agreed between employers and employees, who have to give eight weeks' notice of the leave they intend to take. SPL can be taken at any time in the first year following the child's birth or placement for adoption.

To help parents understand their rights and responsibilities, the government and Acas have published a “top tips” guide to Shared Parental Leave which directs them to a quick calculator on GOV.UK to help them calculate the leave and pay to which they are entitled.

It also recommends that employees have the conversation with their employer as early as possible in order to facilitate plans for the time that they intend to be away from work. It suggests that employees check to see if their employer offers an enhanced package (a package over and above the statutory minimum), and if they do, what type of package it is.

Most importantly, it advises people to know their rights as employers cannot opt out of SPL if the employee is eligible. However, eligibility is far from straightforward as each parent has to satisfy a two-stage test. The first part requires them to show that they have been economically active and have worked for 26 of the previous 66 weeks and earned £30 per week for at least 13 of those 66 weeks.

The second stage of the test looks at the leave and pay to which the individual will be entitled. To qualify for leave, the person has to show that they have worked for six months at the start of the 15th week (known as the qualifying week) before the child is born or matched for adoption. To qualify for pay, they have to show they have earned more than £111 per week in the eight weeks leading up to that qualifying week.

Iain Birrell from Thompsons Solicitors commented: “At a time when workplace rights are being eroded in the name of business flexibility it is good to see a little bit of it given back. Whether it becomes popular remains to be seen, however. Only 55% of new fathers take the existing two weeks paternity leave, and less than 1% take up the extra 26 weeks that are also available to them. This has been blamed on the low statutory rate of pay of £138.18 per week, but this is the same rate being used under the new regime. The current gender pay gap of 9.4% means that men are still significantly better paid than women. Take-up will therefore depend upon some stark economic choices which might put it beyond the reach of many of its intended beneficiaries.

To access the GOV.UK calculator, go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/calculate-your-leave-and-pay-when-you-have-a-child

To read the Thompsons guide to SPL and flexible working, go to: http://www.thompsonstradeunionlaw.co.uk/information-and-resources/lelr-biannual/autumn-winter-focus-flexible-family-friendly-rights.htm

To read the Acas guide to SPL, go to: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4911