Paternity Leave Changes
Many new fathers like to take an active role in the care of their children and new changes to the rules on paternity leave which begin on the 3 April 2011 and apply to children born after this date, will give fathers the chance to be hands on for a total of up to 26 weeks and be paid for it, if they meet certain criteria. The qualifying criteria are complex, but essentially employees will now be able to choose whether they take Ordinary Paternity Leave (OPL) and/ or Additional Paternity Leave (APL).
OPL is essentially the same as the existing scheme and provides one or two weeks consecutive leave and up to two weeks statutory paternity pay. This is subject to being continuously employed for at least 26 weeks before the 15th week before the estimated week of childbirth, being the father of the child and married to, civil partner of or partner of the child’s mother. This must be taken within 56 days of the birth of the child or placement in adoption cases. The rate of pay for OPL will be £128.73 or 90% of their average weekly earnings if that is less.
Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown took their two weeks paternity leave following the birth of their most recent children and it is now a well established trend amongst fathers to roll up their sleeves and help in the early weeks.
The new APL can be taken where the mother of the child has returned to work earlier than her 52 weeks maternity leave entitlement. APL must last a minimum of 2 weeks, up to the maximum 26 weeks and the earliest it can be taken is 20 weeks after the birth of the child. There can be a gap between the mother returning to work and APL starting but it must all be taken within 1 year of the child’s birth. At the end of APL the father will normally be entitled to return to the same job so long as he took no more than 26 weeks leave.
Men will have to provide eight weeks notice to their employer before they want the additional leave to start and will need to provide a declaration that they meet the above criteria and that they are responsible for the child’s upbringing and will use the time to care for the child. There also needs to be a declaration provided by the mother which amongst several points should include that they will return to work and provide her national insurance number.
The rate of pay for APL will be £128.73, but this will depend on whether the mother has used up her Statutory Maternity Pay or maternity Allowance entitlement. Any of her entitlement that is left remaining will be transferred to the father.
To prepare for these new changes, employers should ensure they have an updated Paternity Policy ready for April 2011. The policy should include details of the entitlement to leave, notice requirements and rights upon return to work, and should be circulated to all employees.
At this stage it is difficult to say how many fathers are likely to embrace and take up the new leave, but it does provide an additional option for families when considering juggling work and caring for a small baby. The families who will probably benefit most from this are those where the mother earns more than their partner, as they will be able to consider returning to work earlier whilst still providing their baby with parental care.
Many fathers may be more concerned on the longer term impact on their career if they choose to take extended time out of the workforce, worries which are normally restricted to mothers. It may over time set a trend for father’s giving up work or taking extended career breaks to become the primary carer in the family.
The impact on employers however may be harder felt, depending on the nature of their business and how easy they will find it to recruit for short term replacements.
The Government have also announced that a consultation process will be launched soon about a fully flexible system of shared parental leave to be introduced in 2015. Though no details have been given as to what this might entail, it could involve parents taking leave in a number of chunks, rather than a single block, or mothers and fathers taking time off together, rather than one after the other. The government may even consider offering additional blocks of leave for fathers that are not transferable to mothers, to encourage them to spend time looking after their child. Unless more detail is provided, the uncertainty and scope of the new consultation is likely will frustrate many small business owners.
For further information contact our Employment team at this link.