The extension to paternity leave in practice

One of the main aims of the Work and Families Act 2006 was to encourage both parents to assume childcare responsibilities in the first year of a child’s life. As part of this aim, the Government proposed a new statutory right to additional paternity leave, allowing fathers to take up to 26 weeks’ leave (some of which will be paid) if the mother returns to work after six months but before the end of her maternity leave.

June 6, 2008

Currently, fathers are entitled to take two weeks within the first eight weeks after their child’s birth and to receive statutory paternity pay of £117.18 a week (or 90 per cent of normal weekly earnings if their pay is lower). However, research shows that only a low proportion of fathers take their statutory entitlement, often because of financial concerns.

Government proposals

Last year, the Government published a consultation paper to canvass views on the practicalities of the additional paternity leave and pay scheme to “ensure that burdens on business are minimised, while providing more choice for parents and allowing fathers a greater opportunity to be involved in raising a child”. This consultation sought views on the administration of the scheme and how it will work in practice.

The key proposals included the following:

• To qualify for additional paternity leave and pay, fathers must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment, ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

• The father and the mother should self-certify to the father’s employer that the father is eligible for additional paternity leave and pay (namely, that the mother is returning to work early and passing her maternity entitlement to the father).

• Additional paternity leave will be on top of the current entitlement to two weeks’ paternity leave (which will be renamed Ordinary Paternity Leave and may be taken in a single block of between two and 26 weeks).

• The father will be required to give eight weeks’ notice of his intention to take additional paternity leave.

• Additional paternity leave pay will be payable for the whole of the additional paternity leave and will be calculated on the same basis as statutory paternity pay.

• Fathers on additional paternity leave will be entitled to ten “Keeping in Touch” days.

Although the term “father” is used throughout the consultation paper, additional paternity leave and pay will also be available to partners (of either sex) of mothers and members of adopting couples who are employed and who qualify for statutory adoption leave and pay.

Impact on employers

It was originally planned that this new right would apply where a baby was due in April 2009 or later. However, HM Revenue and Customs has now announced that this date will no longer be met and that it is planning implementation for babies due in April 2010 or later, although no firm decisions on timing have yet been made.

The Government estimates that initial take-up of the extension of paternity leave will be just 4 to 8 per cent of eligible fathers, but that take-up will increase gradually over time. Given this predicted low take-up, it is likely that institutions should be able to deal with the changes on a case-by-case basis as the need arises once the legislation is in force (provided that they deal with employees fairly and consistently).

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