Paternity leave - what the changes mean for you

Last year, the government announced a range of new measures that allow fathers to take additional parental leave. These changes finally came into effect on Sunday.

As an employer, these changes will affect your business if any of your employees is expecting a child on or after 3 April 2011.

What has changed?

Laws on parental leave have, in the past, placed the emphasis firmly on mothers. Many politicians and pressure groups believed that, as the law stood previously, mothers were being forced to accept a disproportionately large burden when it came to childcare, while fathers were unable to play as active a role in their child’s early life as they might wish to.

In the past, fathers were entitled to a maximum of two weeks statutory paternity leave. Mothers, on the other hand, were entitled to up to 52 weeks’ leave – 26 weeks of ‘ordinary’ leave, and then another 26 weeks of ‘additional’ leave if they so chose.

As of now, though, fathers can also take Additional Paternity Leave (APL). This means that they could be entitled to up to 26 weeks’ leave, on top of the 2 weeks to which they were already entitled. The additional leave can be taken once the mother has returned to work, and between 20 months and one year after the birth or adoption of the child in question.

There are a few key criteria for qualification:

  • Fathers are only entitled to APL when the mother (or adopter) was entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave, Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance, Statutory Adoption Leave, or Statutory Adoption Pay.
  • Fathers are only entitled when the mother has returned to work, and is no longer claiming the relevant payments.
  • The father must have been an employee of the company for at least 26 weeks.
  • The employee in question must either be the father of a baby due on or after 3 April 2011, or the spouse, partner or civil partner or partner of someone due to give birth on or after 3 April 2011.
  • In cases of adoption, the employee must have received notice that they have been matched for an adoption to take place on or after 3 April 2011.
  • The leave must be used to care for the child.

What about pay?

At the time of writing, Additional Statutory Paternity Pay is paid at a rate of either £128.73 a week, or 90 per cent of the employee’s average weekly earnings – whichever is lower.

There are additional eligibility criteria for Additional Statutory Paternity Pay:

  • The employee must be earning at least above the Lower Earnings Limit (currently set at £102 per week, £442 per month, and £5,304 per year) at the end of the first qualifying week.
  • The mother or adopter must have already returned to work, and stopped claiming relevant payments.

Anything else I need to know?

The leave must be taken in one big chunk, rather than over sporadic weeks. Similarly, the leave must be for full weeks, rather than individual days.

For clarity’s sake, it is also worth underlining the fact that APL can be taken at any point between the 20th week after the child’s birth, and its first birthday.

In cases where an employee is eligible for APL but not for Additional Statutory Paternity Pay, they may be entitled to take their APL unpaid.

If you are in any doubt about your responsibilities under the new rules, contact BusinessLink for personalised advice.