Paternity leave is just what it sounds like – paid leave for new fathers so they can spend time with their new families.
This is your essential guide to paternity leave. We’ll cover your legal obligations as an employer, explain the benefits of paternity leave, and share a few ideas on how to develop a paternity leave policy that works for your business.
Are Employees Legally Entitled to Paternity Leave?
Yes, they are.
In UK law, when employees take time off because your partner’s having a baby, adopting a child, or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement, they may be eligible for:
- 1 or 2 weeks’ paid Paternity Leave
- Paternity Pay
- Shared Parental Leave and Pay
However, there are certain rules. First, employers are only entitled to these rights if they are taking the time off to look after the child. Also, they must be one of the following:
- The father of the child
- The husband or partner of the mother or adopter (and this includes same-sex partners)
- The child’s adopter
- The intended parent, if the baby’s being born through a surrogacy arrangement
Also, to qualify for paternity leave, the employer must:
- Be a contracted employee of your company
- Give sufficient notice
- Have been continuously employed by you for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the “qualifying week”
What’s the “qualifying week”? It’s the 15th week before the baby is due. Of course, the rules will be slightly different if the employee’s looking to adopt.
You can read more about what makes employees eligible to take paternity leave on the Government’s website. This resource also contains information on what to do if the employee is not eligible for leave, and what sort of rights exist if the employee loses their baby.
In that unthinkable scenario, you’ll want to offer the devastated employee compassionate leave.
How Does Paternity Leave Work?
Once again, UK law is clear on this issue:
- Employees can take either 1 week or 2 weeks. This doesn’t change if there’s more than one child.
- The leave must all be taken in one go, and a week is classed as the same amount of days normally worked in a week. For full-time employees this will be a full week. For part-time employees, it will be whichever days they usually work.
- The leave cannot be taken before the birth, and it must end within 56 days of the birth.
- If the employer wants to change the start date of their paternity leave, they must provide 28 days’ notice.
- Employees do not have to give a precise date for when they want their leave to begin. Instead, they can give a general time – for example, on the day of the birth, or one week after the birth.
If the paternity leave’s for an adoption, the rules are slightly different.
Fathers also have a legal right to take unpaid leave for up to two antenatal appointments. They can take up to six and a half hours for each appointment, but you can let them take longer if you want.
They’ll only qualify for this if they are:
- The baby’s father
- The expectant mother’s husband or civil partner
- In a long-term relationship with the expectant mother
- The intended parent, if they’re having the baby through a surrogacy arrangement
If they’re a permanent employee, they can take this leave immediately. If they’re an agency worker, they’re only entitled to this leave if they’ve been doing the job for 12 weeks.
How to Calculate Statutory Paternity Pay Entitlement
If the employee wants to take longer than two weeks to look after their new family, they can choose to take paternity pay instead of paternity leave. The employee has a legal right to take either paternity leave or paternity pay, but not both.
The statutory weekly rate of paternity pay is either £148.68, or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings – whichever figure is lower. The money is paid in the same way as the employee’s wages – that is, weekly or monthly – and it’s eligible for tax and National Insurance.
Paternity pay is usually paid while the employer’s on leave, and it’s up to you to confirm the employee’s start and end dates.
What is the Minimum Paternity Entitlement?
So far, we’ve just discussed your employees’ statutory rights. This is the bare minimum that you have to offer.
If you want to allow your employees to take more than two weeks paid paternity leave, you can.
If you want to pay your employees more than £148.68 a week for paternity pay, you can (though you cannot pay them any lower than 90% of their average weekly earnings!)
You can make your employee paternity scheme as generous as you want to. And there are some very good reasons to offer a truly generous paternity scheme.
How Paternity Leave can Boost Employee Wellbeing
Employee wellbeing is a combination of good physical health and good mental health. It’s influenced by a number of factors – some physical, some social, and some psychological.
If you invest in employee wellbeing, you can expect a range of benefits:
- Increased productivity and motivation
- Reduced absenteeism
- Better staff retention
- Improved relationships between staff and management
- An overall happier, healthier, and more fulfilled workforce
We recently investigated how some of the world’s most successful businesses manage employee wellbeing. Along with championing exercise and healthy eating, we found that many of these businesses are very generous when it comes to both maternity and paternity leave.
Why? Because employees feel stressed when they feel like work’s getting in the way of the rest of their life. And stressed employees are unhappy, unproductive, and very unlikely to bring their best to work.
Paternity leave allows new fathers to spend as much time as possible with their new family in those crucial early days. It empowers families to decide which parent works and which parent raises the children – it can be either or both.
Offer your employees generous paternity leave and not only will you address a common cause of stress and resentment in the workplace. You’ll also send a strong message to your employees that you value them as people, and that you’re genuinely invested in their lives and their wellbeing. This will be great for relationships, for motivation, and ultimately, for productivity.
So How Much Paternity Leave Should I Offer?
It’s up to you to devise a paternity scheme that works for you. You might want to keep things simple. And you might be a small business with a small team, in which case you can’t afford to offer your employees huge amounts of time off. In which case, it might be best to stick to the statutory model.
But paternity leave was only introduced to the UK in 2003, and when you compare it to the statutory rights surrounding maternity leave, it’s hard not to see it as an afterthought.
Many other countries in the world offer very generous amounts of paternity leave. Since introducing the schemes, countries tend to report overall positive developments – divorce and separation rates drop, alcoholism figures fall, and children tend to perform better in cognitive development tests.
So paternity leave is good for parents, good for children, good for business, and apparently, it’s good for society. So why not be a UK trailblazer and offer more than the bare minimum?