Everything you need to know about paternity leave in the UK

Rowan Dent, Content Writer · 05 Sep

In 2018, dads expect to be an equal part of their child’s life. But paternity leave is lagging behind modern values. In the UK new dads get just one or two weeks’ leave. Yet across the world some of the most successful businesses in the world are starting to offer equal maternity and paternity leave.

In fact, Google provides seven weeks full pay, Facebook a whopping 17 weeks. Last year insurance giants Aviva announced a year’s full paternity pay for parents of all genders and families of all varieties. And every time a major employer offers equal parental leave at full pay, it makes it more difficult for its competitors not to do so.

What is paternity leave?

Paternity leave is paid time off available to any employee whose partner is having a baby or adopting a child. 

Depending on eligibility you might be able to get: 

  • One or two weeks’ paid paternity leave
  • Paternity pay
  • Shared parental leave and pay

Paternity leave

Eligibility for paternity leave

To be eligible for paternity leave your employee must be taking time off to look after the child and be one of the following:

  • The father
  • The husband or partner of the mother (or adopter) – this includes same-sex partners
  • The child’s adopter
  • The intended parent (if having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement)

If your employee has taken paid time off to attend adoption appointments they are not eligible for paternity pay and leave.

How do you get paternity pay?

To be eligible for paternity pay your employee must:

  • Be employed up to the date of birth
  • Earn at least £116 a week (before tax)
  • Give the correct notice 
  • Have been continuously employed by your company for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’

As before, the ‘qualifying week’ is the 15th week before the baby is due. 

If they’re not eligible

You must tell your employee within 28 days if they do not qualify for paternity leave and give your reasons. 

How to claim paternity leave

Your employee will need to claim paternity leave and pay through your HR department. They don’t need to provide proof of the pregnancy or birth.

At least 15 weeks before the baby is due, your employee must let you know:

  • The due date
  • When they want their leave to begin, for example the day of the birth or the week after the birth
  • If they want one or two weeks’ leave (or more if you offer it)

How to claim paternity leave

Adoption and surrogacy leave

There are slightly different rules for employees who are taking adoption and surrogacy leave. 

To be eligible for adoption leave, your employee must have been continuously employed by your company for at least 26 weeks by the ‘matching week’. For adoption this is either:

  • The end of the week they’re matched with the child (UK adoptions)
  • The date the child enters the UK or when they want their pay to start (overseas adoptions)

Employees must also meet the standard eligibility conditions for paternity leave or pay.

Adoption leave start and end dates

Your employees period of paternity leave can start:

  • On the date of placement
  • An agreed number of days after the date of placement

Leave must be taken within 56 days of the date of placement or the child’s arrival in the UK (overseas adoptions).

Proof of adoption

Unlike other paternity leave agreements, your employee must provide proof of adoption to qualify for paternity pay (not paternity leave). 

This could be a letter from the adoption agency or the matching certificate. Proof must be provided within 28 days.

Surrogacy arrangements

If your employee is having a baby through a surrogate, they must fulfil the following requirements: 

  • Be in a couple
  • Be responsible for the child (with their partner)
  • Have been a continuous employee for at least 26 weeks by the end of the ‘qualifying week’ (the 15th week before the baby is due)

You can find more information and downloadable forms on the UK government website. 

History of paternity leave

History of paternity leave

Shockingly, paid paternity leave has only been around since 2003 in the UK. Even 15 years on, when his child is born the dad (or the other parent or partner) gets a paltry two weeks statutory paternity leave paid at £140 a week, less than half of minimum wage. 

However, since April 2015 new parents have had the opportunity to take shared leave, allowing parents to choose for themselves who stays home caring for the baby. 
Under the new rules, mothers still must take the initial two weeks after birth, but up to 50 weeks paid leave can be shared between the parents in any way as long as they meet eligibility criteria. 

Paternity leave around the world 

A total of 28 countries have better paternity leave than the UK, which lags behind many countries in the developed world in terms of gender equality. Sweden adopted paternity leave policies way back in 1974 and today Swedish dads can enjoy 80 days more paid paternity leave than the legal requirement in the UK (one to two weeks). 

Why does paternity leave matter? 

Paternity leave doesn’t have just sentimental value – it’s actually a force for change. Fathers who take paternity leave and play an equal role in the difficult first few weeks with a newborn tend to stay more active in the child’s life as they grow up.

This creates a more equal household where partners share chores and childcare responsibilities and avoids the “second shift” paradox (when working mothers do most of the household work, even though they work full-time). 

Paternity leave and gender pay gap

Working for equality

But here’s where it gets interesting. Paternity leave has been shown to boost male participation in the household, making it easier for women to return to work after having babies. And since, in many countries, women are better educated than men paternity leave is good for business as well as equality at home and in the workplace. 

How to implement a paternity leave policy: a guide for HR leaders

In 2011 a report concluded that the most-conflicted men are those who are stuck working long hours yet feel they should be at home with their kids. So it’s no surprise that many applicants look at potential employers’ paternity leave policies as a benchmark for how serious they are about their employee’s work-life balance.

How to implement paternity leave

Here are five easy steps for your human resources to implement an attractive paternity leave policy:

1. Talk to your employees 

When updating your paternity leave policy, it’s crucial to have a sense of what employees want and need; there’s no point in blindly drafting policies that might not be effective or appropriate for the people who might use them. Hold an open meeting and invite contribution from every level of responsibility.  

2. Take stock of company culture 

Parental leave is a potentially game-changing aspect of any parent’s work experience, and it feeds into the larger scope of overall company culture. Take stock of any niggling issues in office culture, especially around men caring for their children. If your company touts the fact that it treats people well it needs to follow through on that promise – not only to outsiders but to employees as well. 

3. Crunch the numbers – but remember the benefits outweigh the costs

It’s true: having a generous paternity and maternity leave policy is expensive. It’s also an incredibly important aspect of attracting and retaining the very best employees, regardless of their gender. Your company should lead the way in progressive paternity leave but first make sure that you check the spreadsheets committing to something potentially ruinous. 

4. Find creative solutions

You don’t always have to hire people to pick up the slack when an employee takes maternity or paternity leave. How about implementing ‘stretch’ roles so that current employees can step into their superior’s shoes while they take leave? Or offering job share opportunities? By keeping an open and creative mind you may find cost-effective ways to ensure everything still gets done.

5. Encourage employees to actually take leave

Creating a new leave policy is one thing. Sending the message that it’s OK to actually take advantage of the policy is another. It’s important to encourage employees to take advantage of their new rights – management can lead by example.

A final word… 

Great paternity leave is good for business. To win – and keep – the sharpest employees more and more companies are adopting a modern approach to work and parenthood. A progressive paternity leave policy can really support your employees to find that crucial work-life balance and thrive in the office.

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