British parents will soon have access to a more flexible parental leave scheme, giving fathers the option to use their partners' unused maternity leave, the government has announced.
Currently, women are allowed 52 weeks for maternity leave (39 of which are paid) while men are allowed just two weeks of paid paternity leave. This patronizes women and marginalizes men, said deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
The changes, to take effect in April, would mean if a mother returns to work without taking a full year's maternity leave the father will be able to take the remaining time, up to a maximum of six months.
But the government will also consult on a "proper" system of shared parental leave to be introduced in 2015 that would be more flexible and actively encourage men to take time off, said Clegg.
One option is to allow parents to share the overall leave allowance - paid and unpaid - between them in one big block or in lots of chunks.
The government also wants to extend flexible leave beyond mothers and fathers to possibly include grandparents and close family friends.
However, business groups worry the proposals would burden business with more red tape and deter organizations from taking on new staff.
The new system needs to work for both parents and employers and any changes will need to be simple to administer and allow firms to plan ahead to cover staff absences, said Katja Hall, director for employment policy at the Confederation of British Industry employers' group.
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