UK: The Right to Additional Paternity Leave

Last Updated: 11 April 2011
Article by Rosanne Capper

Rosanne Capper looks at the changes to paternity leave, which came into force on 3 April 2011.

Where a mother returns to work without taking all of her maternity leave, the father (or partner of the mother) will be entitled to a minimum of two weeks additional leave and a maximum of 26 weeks additional leave, which must be taken in one continuous block of leave. This leave can be taken any time from 20 weeks after the child is born and must have finished by the child's first birthday.

For an employee to qualify for additional paternity leave they must:

  • Be the father of the baby and/or the husband or partner (including a same-sex partner or civil partner) of a woman who is due to give birth on or after 3 April 2011;
  • Have or expect to have main responsibility (with the baby's mother) for the upbringing of the child and be taking time off to care for the baby; and
  • Have at least 26 weeks' continuous employment with the employer ending with the qualifying week (the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth).

The baby's mother must also:

  • Be entitled to statutory maternity leave, pay or allowance; and
  • Return to work not less than two weeks after the child's birth, but with at least two weeks of unexpired statutory maternity leave entitlement left.

In order to take additional paternity leave, the employee has to give the employer notification that the above criteria have been satisfied.

The implications

Whilst this right will be particularly welcomed by couples where the mother is the higher earner and wishes to return to work and allow the child to be looked after by the father, employers will undoubtedly be concerned about how this right will work in practice. Businesses may understandably be mindful of both the financial implications as well as the logistical problems they may face in terms of administering this right and ensuring the workforce is managed during such absences.

The intention behind these changes is to allow fathers to fulfil their family responsibilities how they want to and allow them to get the right balance between work and home. Of course, however, it is worth remembering that many families will not want to take up this new entitlement and the traditional arrangement of the husband working and the woman staying at home to look after the child is likely to continue.

Are you prepared?

Employers will no doubt want to know how these changes will affect their business and therefore they should ensure that they do the following:

  • Update their paternity leave policy to ensure it complies with the new statutory minimum entitlement including: the criteria for eligibility, notification requirements, the process if dates of the leave are altered, pay, terms and conditions during the leave and the procedure for returning to work;
  • Consider whether an enhanced scheme will be offered. For example, employers could allow all new fathers to take additional paternity leave regardless of their length of service, or pay full salary during some or all of the employee's additional paternity leave. Such enhanced benefits may help to attract and retain employees;
  • Put appropriate documentation and forms in place. There are standard documents available from HMRC to ensure the eligibility criteria is met when requesting leave and that this right is not being abused; and
  • Communicate the new changes to managers and staff by including in any staff handbook and mentioning it during inductions or making an internal announcement. It is important that employees are aware of what rights are available to them but also to know their notification requirements to benefit from this right. Such notification ensures that employers can plan around the absence and put paternity pay arrangements in place. Flexibility and communication is the key to ensure that employees' needs are balanced with the needs of the business.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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