France recently announced that it will be doubling the amount of paid paternity leave that new fathers can take to 28 days. Seven of these days are obligatory, meaning employers must give new fathers at least this many days off or face a fine. With these new rules making headlines, how does the new allowance in France compare to the current legal entitlement in the UK? Employment solicitor Michelle Last answers some key questions on paternity leave below.

How much paternity leave are fathers entitled to in the UK?

Eligible fathers are entitled to take either one whole week or two consecutive weeks of paternity leave, which must be taken within 56 days of a child’s birth or placement for adoption. This includes the birth of a child to a surrogate mother where the employee and their partner expect to obtain a parental order.

Fathers apply for paternity leave by notifying their employer of their intention to take paternity leave. When making the application, the employee should inform their employer of:

  • the Expected Week of Childbirth/placement for adoption;
  • the length of paternity leave the employee wishes to take; and
  • when the employee would like their paternity leave to start.

This information must be provided to the employer no later than the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth/placement for adoption. If for any reason this is not reasonably practicable, the information must be provided as soon as possible.

The Expected Week of Childbirth is confirmed on a MATB1 form, which is provided by a midwife, typically after the 12-week or 20-week scan.

Can paternity leave be split?

Fathers can take paternity leave in a single one-week period or two-week block. They cannot take odd days, for instance.

Fathers cannot share paternity leave with their partner. However, mothers can sacrifice some of their maternity leave to enable the father to share a period of shared parental leave of up to a total of 50 weeks.

How do you apply for paternity leave?

Sometimes employees can be nervous about applying for paternity leave for fear it will impact the business detrimentally or their career. To help avoid this, it may be better to raise the topic of paternity leave in good time, to ensure the employer has time to prepare for this. It may also be useful to plan the period of paternity leave so that it is well spaced out with annual leave and does not therefore mean the employee is in and out of the business over a short period of time.

If there is a Human Resources function, employees are advised to ensure they are copied in on correspondence regarding paternity leave and any necessary forms are completed. It is surprising how often managers forget to tell Human Resources that an employee is taking parental leave.

Who is eligible for paternity leave?

Paternity leave is only available for employees who meet the qualifying criteria. The father must:

  • have sufficient qualifying employment with their employer. Typically, this means having been continuously employed by their employer for a period of not less than 26 weeks ending with the week immediately prior to the 14th week before the baby’s Expected Week of Childbirth (or the week in which they are notified of a match, in the case of an adoption);
  • have one of the specified relationships with either the child, the child’s mother or the adopter. Typically, this means being the biological father or the spouse, civil partner or partner of the mother;
  • have or expect to have a sufficient degree of responsibility for raising the child;
  • not already have taken shared parental leave; and
  • give sufficient notice of the intention to take paternity leave and provide necessary evidence to show they are entitled to take it.

Can leave be taken for the baby’s birth, without using any paternity leave?

Not all babies arrive via scheduled C-section and the vast majority of employers will expect an impending father to take paternity leave at short notice, on the birth of a baby. To ensure the father is entitled to take paternity leave for the birth itself, the father could request that their paternity leave starts on the birth of the child.

Otherwise, the father could ask to take emergency annual leave from their accrued annual leave entitlement, for the birth itself. The father can then elect to take paternity leave at a later date, provided it is within 56 days of the birth or placement for adoption. If the baby comes early, before the Expected Week of Childbirth, the period in which paternity leave must be taken is extended.

What should be considered when returning to work?

Paternity leave is actually quite short given the momentous occasion that precedes it and the fact life has changed forevermore beyond all recognition. If finances permit, it may make sense to take the maximum amount of paternity leave, to ensure the father is able to take as much leave as possible and without impacting their annual leave entitlement. Most families find it is best to take paternity leave immediately on the birth of a child, to help with the immediate demands of adjusting to new responsibilities and a lack of sleep.

Fathers should also give consideration as to whether they might want their partner to sacrifice some maternity leave so they can take it as shared parental leave.

Above all, taking paternity leave should be a positive experience. Whilst paternity discrimination is rare in the UK, in the event that a father does face any discrimination or detrimental treatment for having taken parental leave, they are protected in law and could bring a claim for damages among other potential claims.

If you have any questions about paternity leave or you are having issues raising it with your employer, please get in touch with Michelle Last using the contact details below.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.