Paternity Leave: What You Need To Know

Paternity Leave: What You Need To Know


It’s staggering to think paternity leave is a relatively new entitlement and as with all these things it’s essential you know your rights. SLMan spoke to leading family law barrister Paula Rhone-Adrien and associate solicitors Tabitha Cunningham and Charlotte Farrell to find out what you need to be aware of.

So everyone has the right to paternity leave, right?
“Yes – the right to take statutory paternity leave is set down in legislation. If you meet the eligibility requirements to take paternity leave, your company must give you the opportunity to take it. A company cannot choose whether or not to offer paternity leave to an employee as it is not a voluntary benefit. Individual companies can choose to offer enhanced contractual paternity pay if they want to do so, i.e. to pay a higher rate or in full for the two-week period. This is entirely discretionary and up to each individual company.” – Charlotte Farrell, associate solicitor

And how many weeks exactly are men actually entitled to?
“In the UK, an employee can take either one week or two consecutive weeks for paternity leave, which is the minimum timeframe specified by the government. However, you may be entitled to more if you have negotiated it with your employer. Before you join a new company, check your contract of employment and ask your HR department about paternity leave as different rules apply for each company – you may not be eligible for any time at all. Providing your company offers paternity leave, you’ll be eligible if your partner is pregnant, adopting a child, or having a baby through surrogacy arrangement.” – Paula Rhone-Adrien, family law barrister


“In the UK, an employee can take either one week or two consecutive weeks for paternity leave, which is the minimum timeframe specified by the government."

Is there a process to follow?
“If your employer has a paternity leave policy, it will give you details of how and when you should apply. Most employees choose to tell their employers informally after the 12-week or 20-week pregnancy scan that they are expecting to take paternity leave. Your manager should then confirm the requirements for applying, which usually means confirming in writing that you are eligible to take the leave, whether you want to take one week or two weeks, and when you want the leave to start. You might be asked for evidence that you are taking leave to care for the child.” – Tabitha Cunningham, associate solicitor 

“Always refer to your employment contract. If there isn’t any information contained within that document, check if your employer has created any policies for it. Once you’ve read the policy, ensure your understanding is correct by speaking to HR or to whoever is responsible for managing paternity leave. If there is no paperwork in place and no one who can help you, visit your trade union website or, which will give you helpful tips on what you should expect. Put your expectations in writing for your employer and set out what you think you are entitled to and how you would like to apply for it.” – Paula

Do you have to work for your company for a specific amount of time to be eligible?
“Yes, you will only be eligible if you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks before you submit the request, which is 15 weeks before the week of the due date. Essentially, you have to have worked for your employer for at least 31 weeks before the child’s due date.” – Tabitha

Can you split paternity leave?
“No, but you can split maternity leave. This is called ‘shared parental leave’. You both have to be eligible for this scheme before you can apply and you both have to share ‘parental responsibility’ (a legal term which essentially starts with the father being named on the birth certificate), and your partner must be eligible for maternity pay/leave.” – Paula

“Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 to give more choice in how two parents choose to care for their child. Essentially, if you are eligible you can choose to convert up to 50 weeks of the mother’s maternity leave into shared parental leave, which can then be split between the mother and the father in different ways. For example, they could choose to both take off 25 weeks at the same time, so you spend the first six months at home together, or they could choose for the mother to take the first six months off and the father the remainder. Although the requirements can be quite complex, shared parental leave is well worth exploring if you want to share the time off between you and your partner.” – Tabitha

Tell us more about shared parental leave – what’s the best way to negotiate it with your employer?
“Shared parental leave is a statutory right in the same way as maternity and paternity leave. Although the requirements are quite complex, it is well worth exploring if you want to share the time off between you. It isn’t governed by the person’s contract and, if they meet the eligibility requirements and follow the correct processes, then a company is obliged to allow an employee to take it. A mother must take at least two weeks of maternity leave under separate regulations (four if she works in a factory) but after that, if you are eligible as a couple, you can choose to convert up to 50 weeks of the mother’s maternity leave into shared parental leave. The mother must notify her employer if she wants to convert the remaining maternity leave to shared parental leave and then set out how she wants to take that remaining leave.

“It is also possible to request discontinuous periods: for example, you both take one month off together then each return to work for alternate months. This type of pattern would be unusual but it is something parents can consider if there is a particular event or occasion the mother wants to be at work for in the period of her leave. However, companies can refuse a request to take leave in this way (known as ‘discontinuous leave’) and so it will very much depend upon the needs of the business and whether they can accommodate it. 

“If you take shared parental leave you are also entitled to take up to 37 weeks of shared parental pay between you, which is the same rate as statutory maternity pay (£151.20 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings if lower). As with maternity and paternity pay, companies are able to offer more generous shared parental leave packages if they want to do so. Since April 2020, any contract issued for a new employee must also have details in about these entitlements so that it is easy to access the information for employees.” – Charlotte

What happens if there are health complications for your partner or wife?
“Unfortunately, if your partner or wife has health complications, there are no specific entitlements to an extended period of statutory paternity leave. However, some companies have compassionate leave policies which can offer additional pay leave and may cover this type of situation. Some companies are also prepared to negotiate additional time off on a case-by-case basis, but this is at their discretion. This type of leave may also be unpaid as there is no obligation on the company to offer payment.

“There are other types of leave available to parents and carers and depending on the nature of the complications and your other commitments, these may be options for you. You may be entitled to take time off for dependant’s leave; however, this is also unpaid and is only meant to be used to deal with emergencies and so depending on the situation this may not apply. If you have other children who need looking after, you could consider requesting Parental Leave, which has its own eligibility requirements, but your company can refuse the request to take it if there are good business reasons. Again, it’s unpaid and has to be taken in periods of one week but, if your partner’s health complications require you to care for children, this option may be suitable.” – Charlotte

Do you accrue holiday while on paternity leave?
“Yes, all your normal rights remain the same while you are on paternity leave, other than your salary, which is reduced to statutory paternity pay. This rate alters every year, but is currently £151.20 per week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings if this is lower. This is paid in the same way as your normal salary, so will be included in your monthly or weekly payslip, and will be subject to tax and national insurance. Some employers offer enhanced company pay, but they don’t have to.” – Tabitha

“In the current climate, you may not have to return to the office. Explore the possibility of working from home."

How close to the birth of your baby does your leave have to be?
“Paternity leave can be taken between the day your child is born and up to the 56th day. You don’t have to give a precise start date but you can say to your employer: ‘I want the leave to start on the day my child is born or perhaps a week after’ (although the rules are slightly different if you adopt). Obviously, your child could be born at any time during a 24-hour period, but if you were at work at the time, and your job permitted it, I think you would be hard pressed to find an employer who would refuse to let you leave so you could attend the birth. However, if you are concerned about this, ask your boss beforehand.” – Paula

Are men entitled to any time off to attend antenatal appointments?
“Yes, there is a statutory right that allows men to take time off to attend antenatal appointments and classes. These regulations came into force on 1st October 2014 but are still quite unknown and many partners presume they don’t have such rights. In simple terms, an employee who has a “qualifying relationship” with a pregnant woman or the baby she is carrying is entitled to take time off during their working hours to accompany the woman to antenatal appointments – however the time off is unpaid.

Unlike paternity leave, for which you need to have been employed for a certain period of time to qualify, the right to attend antenatal appointments applies from day one of your employment so, even if you don’t qualify for paternity leave, you will still be able to attend appointments.

“There is a limit to this right, though. While women have the right to take ‘reasonable time off’ which can be construed quite broadly, for their partners the right is limited to no more than two occasions lasting no more than six and a half hours each (which the guidance suggests covers the time away from the workplace, i.e. including travel and waiting time as well as the actual time spent at the appointment). In reality pregnant women have a lot more than two appointments so their partners will need to choose which appointments are the most important for them to attend. As with paternity leave, companies can offer more generous policies if they want to.” – Charlotte

Does paternity leave differ for same-sex couples?
“No, your statutory rights remain exactly the same.” – Paula

What’s the best way to broach paternity leave with your HR department?
“It is always worth being aware of the approach other employees have taken to paternity leave or any additional benefits they’ve been able to negotiate. While the basic paternity leave rights are set out in the regulations, if the company has given a colleague more generous pay or allowed them to take additional paid leave, this could help you negotiate a better package for yourself. Conversely, if you know that the company will not grant any additional paid leave and are quite strict on the regulations you know you need to plan around this and consider other options or arrangements. It might help you plan the time around your baby’s arrival in advance: for example, by saving holiday or negotiating a period to work from home if you have a long commute and would like to try and avoid it for a few weeks until you’ve adjusted to a lack of sleep.” – Charlotte

How can men prepare to return to work after paternity leave?
“In the current climate, you may not have to return to the office. Explore the possibility of working from home. However, if you do have to return, be clear about your company’s family policies – for example, flexible working and parental leave. If you familiarise yourself with these now, as opposed to when something has gone wrong, your management of the situation will be calmer, meaning your approach will be more focused. Finally, if you are leaving your partner at home then make sure you have numbers such as your health visitor and GP to hand if you don’t have family or friends close by. Parenthood can be very lonely and stressful, but there are professionals out there who you can ring and are ready to take your call if you are worried about your partner or yourself.” – Paula

“Unfortunately, there isn’t much support for men returning from paternity leave and the impact on a partner returning to work with a very young child at home is often overlooked. Often no-one asks new fathers how they’re feeling at work or colleagues will merely joke about the lack of sleep and then move on. Whilst post-natal anxiety and depression in women is become more recognised, there is sadly a growing trend of men and partners suffering from post-natal anxiety and depression too but it is often missed, misunderstood or ignored. Men are often expected to just jump back into work full throttle and forget about what is happening at home for those working hours; which is generally difficult if not impossible for them to do. 

“Your health visitor should be able to provide details of any groups or support services in your area which are focused on bringing new dads together and helping them adjust to their new roles. The NCT (National Childbirth Trust) also has lots of online resources for new fathers, as does Dads Matter UK, and the NHS, which has recently developed a new online guide for new dads – The Dad Pad.” – Charlotte 

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DISCLAIMER: *This feature provides general advice about paternity leave. The information within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law. The publisher and contributors will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from reliance on this information.

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