It’s a great time to be becoming a dad, as you have more flexibility than ever over how you and your partner will manage in the first year of parenthood. In 2015 the UK law changed so that parents can share leave in the first year of a baby’s life. This was an important step forward for gender equality.
Whether you are planning to take parental leave to enable your partner to return to work, or to maximise the time you have with your new baby, here is a guide for dads about paternity leave rules, options and rights.
Antenatal rights for dads
As you might know, mums-to-be are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care, including travel time. Fathers and partners of pregnant women are also allowed unpaid time off, but can only attend two ante-natal appointments. This time off is capped at six and a half hours per appointment; which could be a medical visit or a parenting class.
If you’re adopting, you can have time off for adoption appointments; surrogate parents are also allowed unpaid time off for two antenatal visits. You may be asked by your employer for evidence of the appointment.
There are two types of leave for dads. The first is Ordinary Paternity Leave, which gives you two weeks’ leave after your baby is born, which is usually fully paid. You can take it at any time in the first eight weeks, but you must tell your employer that you intend to take the leave by the 15th week before the baby is due. Many firms will have a paternity leave form you can complete, others will require you to write a paternity leave letter. For those who are self-employed, paternity pay is not available.
With Shared Parental Leave, dads can take time off to care for the baby over a longer period. You can take up to 50 weeks after the birth (or adoption), which is split between you and your partner.
As a couple, you will qualify for 39 weeks of Statutory Shared Parental Pay.
You can take this leave at the same time as your partner, or you can each take it individually. You can also break it into blocks of leave: you don’t have to take it all in one go. If you’re planning to take Shared Parental Leave, you must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice.
Statutory Shared Parental Pay is the same as Statutory Maternity Pay. It totals 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks, and then £148.68 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
It is subject to tax and National Insurance deductions. Some employers do choose to enhance the statutory benefit, so check the policy. To qualify for Statutory Paternity Leave Pay you need to have worked for your employer for 26 weeks before your child is born.
Dads on Shared Parental Leave have the same rights as mothers on maternity leave. So, while you’re on leave you will continue to accrue your holiday entitlement, you are still eligible to receive a pay rise, and you are protected from being dismissed or put at risk of redundancy because of your status as a parent.
Unpaid Parental Leave
Many employees also qualify for unpaid parental leave. Under this entitlement, parents can take up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child up to their 18th birthday. You can have up to four weeks of unpaid leave in a year, per child. This leave must be taken in whole weeks rather than individual days – unless your employer agrees otherwise – or if your child is disabled in which additional rights apply.
To be entitled to unpaid parental leave, you must have been employed by the organisation for over a year and be named as having parental responsibility, or be named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate. Unpaid parental leave doesn’t apply to foster parents, self-employed people, contractors or agency workers.
If there’s a family emergency, you can usually get a reasonable amount of time off. Your employer might pay you during these periods, but they don’t have to. You can also request ‘compassionate leave’ which can be paid or unpaid. See also:
Employers are increasingly recognising the value of treating employees well as they become parents.
In fact, this is becoming quite a competitive area as firms vie to attract and retain talented people.
In May 2019 Volvo announced that it had started giving all employees six months’ paid parental leave. Hewlett Packard announced a similar policy for its 60,000 global employees this year, while insurance giant Aviva introduced equal parental leave for men and women in 2017. It has since reported that 95% of dads had since taken more than the statutory two weeks’ paid paternity leave and 67% had taken six months off.
Other front runners include Spotify, Diageo and O2. It’s likely that other firms will follow suit to remain competitive in the recruitment marketplace – which is great news for parents. See also:
There’s clearly more to be done to impress most parents in the workplace, though. A LinkedIn survey published in March 2019 found that 60% of employees felt that the parental policies were not entirely transparent when they joined the company. More than a third of those surveyed remain unaware of the support provided by their workplace for new parents.
The report also found that only 23% of UK employees felt it was financially worthwhile to return to work after having a child. Almost 30% of women have considered switching careers to find a role that fits better around family life.
Interestingly, 25% of dads that responded to the survey felt that there is still a stigma about males taking time off to look after the children.