Policies for parental leave and pensions

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For employers only

What are the requirements for pension contributions if an employee in a workplace pension scheme takes parental leave? 

To help answer this, it’s necessary to take account of not only the statutory position but their terms and conditions of employment and the HR policy relating to the specific type of leave requested.  

The information in this article is based on our understanding of current legislation, which may change. It covers the different types of parental leave and the requirements for pension contributions in relation to workplace pensions – both defined contribution occupational pension schemes and personal pensions.

The entitlement to statutory parental leave and pay is subject to service and earnings requirements. Details can be found on the government website – links are provided at the end of this article. If as an employer you’re in any doubt as to your obligations and what you should be doing, please speak to a financial adviser or take legal advice. All the rates quoted in this article are for the 2021/22 tax year.

Maternity pay and leave

It’s possible for an employee to take up to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave and, subject to eligibility, receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for up to the first 39 weeks from their employer.

As a minimum, through SMP, they’ll get:

90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks.

And then £151.97 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

The 52-week period is made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave. An employee can choose to return to work before the end of the 52 weeks. If they decide to take the full 52 weeks of leave, the last 13 weeks may be unpaid.

Although these are the statutory minimums for maternity pay, an employer might pay more than the SMP minimum amount or provide pay for more than 39 weeks, so employees should check their employment contract to understand their own situation.

If they’re not eligible for SMP they may qualify for Maternity Allowance.

Adoption pay and leave

The same periods of leave and levels of pay that apply on maternity also apply for adoption leave and pay. It’s possible for an employee to take up to 52 weeks of Statutory Adoption Leave and, subject to eligibility, receive Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) for up to the first 39 weeks from their employer.

The 52-week period is made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Adoption Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Adoption Leave. An employee can choose to return to work before the end of the 52 weeks. If they decide to take the full 52 weeks of leave, the last 13 weeks may be unpaid.

An employer might pay more than the SAP minimum amount or provide pay for more than 39 weeks, so employees should check their employment contract to understand their own situation. Only one person in a couple can take adoption leave – the other person may be able to take paternity leave.

Paternity pay and leave

When an employee takes time off because their partner has given birth, or because of an adoption or surrogacy arrangement, they could be eligible for 1 or 2 weeks of paid paternity leave and pay and it must be taken within 56 days of the birth (or the due date, if the baby is early).

Paternity leave must all be taken in one go. As a minimum, through statutory paternity pay (SPP), they’ll get £151.97 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Shared parental leave and pay

As an alternative option, it’s possible for an employee and their partner to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and be eligible for Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) on the birth of a baby, or on adoption.

Up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared between the couple in the first year after their child is born, or after adoption. Leave is flexible in that it can be taken all in one go or taken in a limited number of blocks subject to employer agreement.

A couple can choose to take time off together or split their time off to stagger the leave and pay they’ll receive.

If an employee is eligible and either they, or their partner, end maternity or adoption leave and pay early, they can take the remaining 52 weeks of maternity or adoption leave as SPL and the remaining 39 weeks of maternity or adoption pay as ShPP. As a minimum, through ShPP, they’ll get £151.97 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Both partners must share responsibility for the child at birth to be eligible for SPL and ShPP. There are different conditions to be met depending on whether both partners want to split SPL and ShPP, or only one of them wants to apply.  

Pension contributions during parental leave

Time off during parental leave will either be paid or unpaid.

As already covered, there are statutory rules for each type of parental leave covering the levels of pay available and the length of time pay will continue for. An employer may pay more than the statutory minimums and that will be set out in the terms and conditions of employment and HR policy.

During paid leave, an employee is entitled to continue as a member of their employer’s pension scheme and their employer is required to make contributions as if they were working normally and receiving normal pay, including any pay rises due during the period of leave.

Any contributions an employee makes are based on the actual pay they receive when on leave.

During unpaid leave, it’s accepted that there’s no statutory requirement for an employer or employee to make pension contributions.  

It’s worth noting that if an employee chooses to stop their own contributions when on parental leave, their employer can stop contributing too.

As an example, for someone taking a full 52 weeks of maternity leave:

Pension contributions should continue to be made for the 26 weeks of OML and the first 13 weeks of AML.

For the final 13 weeks of AML, it will depend on whether the employee is being paid or not:

If the leave is paid, then pension contributions should continue to be made.

If leave is unpaid, there’s no statutory requirement for pension contributions to continue.

What about salary sacrifice?

If pension contributions are being made via salary sacrifice, which means the employer is effectively paying them, the situation is slightly different.

If an employee has reduced their gross pay through salary sacrifice, any statutory or contractual pay they’re entitled to may be calculated based on this lower amount.

They should check their contract of employment, though, to see if their employer uses a higher ‘reference salary’ for any contractual maternity pay. If they don’t cancel their salary sacrifice arrangement, their employer will continue to pay the same amount into their pension during paid parental leave based on their normal level of pre-leave pay.

During any unpaid leave, there’s no statutory requirement for pension contributions to continue to be paid by an employer.

However, pregnancy or adoption could be classed as a ‘lifestyle change’ by HM Revenue & Customs, meaning an employee could choose to opt-out of their salary sacrifice arrangement as part of going on parental leave.

If they choose to opt-out, the pre-sacrifice position normally applies. This could mean they’ll start paying pension contributions alongside employer contributions during paid leave.

If a salary sacrifice arrangement is cancelled, for example to increase an employee’s pay during parental leave, it’s important that they remain in their workplace pension scheme and pay their own pension contributions so that they’ll continue to benefit from their employer’s pension contributions.

More information

You can find more resources and guidance from the government around parental leave on their website: 

Maternity pay and leave

Adoption pay and leave

Paternity pay and leave

Shared parental leave and pay

Maternity, paternity and shared parental leave calculator

You can also visit the government Money Helper website for more guidance.