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What are the basics of paternity leave?

UK paternity leave is the right of a father, partner of a pregnant woman, surrogate parent or someone who has been matched with a child by an adoption agency, to take up to 2 weeks' of leave in one block. The leave must be taken within 56 days of the birth of a child or within 56 days of the expected date of birth if the child is born early. To take paternity leave, the employee must have at least 26 weeks of service with the employer.

Expectant fathers or partners of expectant mothers (and surrogate parents from 6 April 2015) are also entitled to unpaid time off work to attend up to 2 antenatal appointments (up to a maximum of six and a half hours each) regardless f the length of time they have worked for an employer (unless they are an agency worker). Those who are adopting, are entitled to unpaid time off work to attend up to 2 adoption appointments after having been matched with a child.

Types of leave

Employees who earn more than a set amount (currently £123 before tax) are entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP). During ‘ordinary paternity leave’ (OPL), SPP is paid at a fixed statutory rate (£172.48 a week) or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). For more information, read the Government’s guidance on statutory paternity pay and leave.

Whether employees will receive SPP during ‘additional' or 'enhanced' paternity leave depends on when exactly the mother or adopter returned to work (ie whether they had any remaining entitlement to statutory maternity or adoption pay when they returned to work). For more information, read Shared parental leave.

Important action points for employers

During paternity leave, the Employment contract continues except for pay, and all benefits must continue as normal.

Employees must not be dismissed or subjected to any detriment for taking or requesting paternity leave. Consider introducing a Paternity policy that will help managers and staff to understand paternity leave rights and obligations. You should also ensure that the policy includes references to your Data protection policy and Employee privacy notice. For further information, read Data protection and employees.

What relationship must the employee have with the child?

Anyone with parental responsibility can take paternity leave. This means they must have some responsibility for the child’s upbringing and be: 

  • the child’s biological parent (whether or not living with the child)

  • the child’s adoptive parent

  • the child’s surrogate parent, or 

  • the spouse, partner or civil partner of the child’s mother, adopter or surrogate parent

Tricky paternity leave issues

In general, paternity leave gives rise to a few complex legal issues. 

Holiday continues to accrue during paternity leave. It is risky to prevent employees from carrying forward accrued holiday, if the holiday year-end falls during their paternity leave, as the law is unclear on this issue.

Pensions are another tricky area. Pension contributions should be maintained during paid paternity leave. It is not clear whether pension contributions must be made during paternity leave.

Take care to adjust performance and bonus targets, where appropriate, to avoid unfairly penalising employees on paternity leave. Pro-rating is normally acceptable. Do not reduce bonuses that are not dependent on work performed because of paternity leave (eg loyalty bonuses and some Christmas bonuses).

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