Ask the panel

December 16, 2005

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

My same-sex partner is pregnant with our second child. As my partner is more senior than me, she will return to work full time after the birth and I will take on the main childcaring responsibilities for the first year of the baby's life, after which I plan to return to work part time. We also plan to enter into a civil partnership after the baby's birth. What leave will I be entitled to and can I request flexible working?

* Our Universities and Colleges Employers' Association panellist says: "Congratulations! Under the Civil Partnership Act that came in to force on December 5, 2005, same-sex couples who choose to register their partnership enjoy similar legal rights to married couples."

He adds that legal recognition of civil partnerships extends to workplace benefits and statutory paternity and adoption pay. "It also gives civil partners the right to request to work flexibly. Eligible employees can take one or two consecutive weeks' statutory paternity leave and during that period most will be entitled to statutory paternity pay. Employees who have completed one year's service are entitled to 13 weeks' (unpaid) parental leave."

* The Equality Challenge Unit panellist confirms that paid paternity leave can be taken by a mother's or adopter's same-sex partner (whether or not they are registered civil partners). Same-sex partners can also claim parental leave in respect of a partner's child if they have a joint residence order and have parental responsibility. Employees have the right to up to 13 weeks' (unpaid) parental leave for that baby or child.

She adds: "In October 2005, the Government published the Work and Families Bill. It is expected to become law in April 2007. One of the Bill's proposals is to allow a mother to transfer paid maternity leave to the father of the child, or person married to the mother, or the mother's partner, including a same-sex partner.

"Parents of children under six (18 if the child is disabled) can request to work flexibly, if they are the mother, father, adopter, guardian or foster parent of the child; or married to or the partner of the child's mother, father, adopter, guardian or foster parent. Visit www.acas. org.uk for information."

* The panellist from the Association of University Teachers says: "Although you have the right to request flexible working as the partner of the biological mother, this right is subject to a 26-week qualifying period. Similarly, parental leave rights, which you will be entitled to if you have parental responsibility, are subject to a one-year qualifying period. It is therefore worth trying to negotiate leave from your employer (even if it is largely unpaid) rather than take a break in employment.

"It is likely that your employer has more generous provisions in relation to paternity leave and pay and flexible working, so you need to find out what these are. It would be usual for any such rights to extend to same-sex partners, but if you find that your employer's benefits are less favourable to you than they would be to a man in your situation you should seek the support of your union in challenging discriminatory and potentially unlawful practices."

* The advice from our Natfhe panellist may change your plans.

"Under current law, you will be treated as the father," he says. "You will be eligible for paternity leave, whether you choose civil registration of your partnership or not. These are limited - a legal right to take two consecutive weeks of paternity leave at £106 a week, within 56 days of the birth, with notice given 15 weeks before the birth.

"As the partner of the mother you can request flexible working, which the employer must consider but may refuse.

"You say your partner will return to work because she is in a more senior position, suggesting that the reason is at least partly financial. If that is the case, you can see that it would be much more financially advantageous for her to take maternity leave."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.

Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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