New legislation on parental leave which comes into force later this year could lead to more work for employment solicitors.

A new shared parental leave (SPL) regime comes into force in December, allowing working couples whose babies are born on or after 5 April 2015 to share maternity leave and pay, and allows more flexible working practices.

HBJ Gateley associate Sarah Gilzean (pictured), an expert in discrimination and equal pay, said solicitors are more likely to see an increase in employers looking for advice on how to handle requests.

’There may be a slightly higher risk of claims coming from men arguing that a failure to pay enhanced [maternity pay] amounts to indirect sex discrimination, and there may be claims from women who lose their enhanced maternity pay to take SPL on the basis that they have been subject to a detriment for taking SPL.’

Currently, mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay. Fathers are entitled to two weeks paternity leave at the time of birth and up to a further 26 weeks parental leave once the child is 20 weeks old, if the mother has chosen to return to work.

The government estimates that only 2-8% of men will take SPL in 2015-16, though official research in other European countries where similar reform has taken place suggests these numbers are likely to rise as fathers become more aware of the provisions.

In Germany, take-up increased from 3.3% in 2006 to 20% in 2010.