The UK has finally caught up with Sweden over a right to shared parental leave for employees and from 5 April, around 280,000 working couples will be eligible to make use of the new rules.

The legislation means mothers and fathers will be able to share 50 weeks of leave between then after a mother takes the first two weeks off work.

The move will represent a big change for employers and employees and the manufacturers' organisation, the EEF, found 40% of HR professionals see the legislation as a "key challenge" for their firms.

"Shared parental leave is a positive step forward, but as with anything new and unknown it's not without its challenges," Lucy Atherton, legal compliance expert at the EEF, said.

"With the changes now upon us, it's vital that companies now ensure they are fully up-to-speed so that they and their staff can maximise the benefits, while avoiding potential downfalls."

The new rules also present a significant challenge for employers – shared parental leave can be taken in several blocks. This means eligible parents may take time and on and off work, disrupting their employer.

But Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, has hailed the new rules and stressed dads have a key role to play in raising children.

"As the minister responsible for modernising our working culture, I'm delighted that we're introducing shared parental leave which will let couples choose how to share time away from work to care for their new baby in a way that suits them best," Swinson said.

"Dads have a key role to play in the early weeks and months of a baby's life and it is right that the arrangements for parental leave should reflect that."