Paternity: know your rights

Paternal Leave

With less than one in three new fathers taking paternity leave according to HMRC data, the government is trying to make it easier for new parents to balance their work and family lives.

Here’s what you and your partner should know:

Who can take paternity leave?

You can take paternity leave if you are one of the following:

  • Father;
  • Husband or partner of the mother;
  • The child’s adopter;
  • The intended parent (in a surrogacy).

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be employed by your employer up to the date of the birth;
  • Earn at least £118 a week (before tax);
  • Have given the correct notice (see below);
  • Have been continuously employed by your employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’. The qualifying week is the 15th week before the baby is due (the rules are different for adoption).

When can paternity leave be taken?

It must start after the child has been born and end within 56 days of the birth.

Is more leave before the birth possible?

You are able to take unpaid leave prior to the birth in order to accompany the expectant mother to two antenatal appointments. You can also agree further unpaid leave with your employer, but this is at their discretion.

How much is paternity leave pay?

This changes annually but as of June 2019, the lower of (per week):

  • £148.68; or
  • 90% of your average weekly earnings.

Your employer may choose to pay you at a higher rate, but this is at their discretion.

How to apply

At least 15 weeks before the baby is due, you must tell your employer:

  • The due date;
  • When you want the leave to start (e.g. the day of birth);
  • If you want to take one or two weeks of leave.

If you would like to change the start date (e.g. because the due date has changed), you must give your employer 28 days’ notice.

How does shared parental leave work? 

In 2015, shared parental leave (SPL) was also introduced.

This allows parents to share 50 weeks of leave (37 of which are paid) after they have their child.

The leave can be taken separately, or both parents could choose to be off at the same time for a number of weeks.

Who is eligible?

If you and your partner want to share the SPL, you must:

  • Be an employee, not a worker;
  • Have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the qualifying week;
  • Continue working for the same employer during the SPL;
  • Each earn on average at least £118 per week.

How much will be paid?

At the time of writing, the lower of (per week):

  • £148.68; or
  • 90% of your average weekly earnings.

Your employer may choose to pay you at a higher rate, but this is at their discretion, and in our experience rarely happens. In the recent Court of Appeal case of Ali v Capita Customer Management it was held that male employees did not suffer discrimination when their employers did not pay enhanced shared parental pay, when female colleagues on maternity leave would have got enhanced maternity pay.

How to apply

  • Ensure that the mother has ended any maternity leave or given their employer ‘binding notice’ of when they plan to end maternity leave; and
  • Give your employer at least eight weeks’ written notice of your intended leave dates.

Paternity rights around the world

It seems that the UK sits around mid-table in terms of father-friendly rights, we could do better, but we are not the worst. Some examples from around the world:

  • Japan: men can take up to fifty-two weeks of paid paternity leave. There is a very low uptake, however.
  • USA: federal law entitles men to twelve weeks of leave – but this is entirely unpaid, meaning many families can’t afford to take it.
  • Sweden: one of the most generous policies in Europe, Swedish parents are offered 480 days of paid parental leave. During this time, both parents have an exclusive right to ninety days of paid leave.

There are so many benefits to sharing parental responsibilities, but it seems a combination of a lack of understanding of what is on offer, cultural barriers and financial penalties are all contributing to the low take-up.

Susie Al-Qassab is an employment law partner at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors

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