A recent study has shown that less than 1% of men are taking up their entitlement to ‘additional paternity leave’.

The entitlement to additional paternity leave was introduced by the Government in 2011 as part of its eternal plan to provide a better work-life balance for the UK’s employees. So it’s only been available for 2 years, and recent decisions to change entitlements for working parents mean that it will be abolished in 2015 to be replaced by an entirely flexible leave system. So until then, what do we know about it?

‘Additional paternity leave’ is a separate entitlement from the entitlement to ‘ordinary paternity leave’. Ordinary paternity leave is for a maximum of 2 weeks which must be taken within 56 days after the birth. An employee will only be eligible to take it if they have 26 week’s service by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due.

The same length of service criterion applies to additional paternity leave, but this time, a maximum of 26 weeks’ leave can be taken.

The earliest point at which additional paternity leave can start is when the baby is 20 weeks old, and it is also a requirement that the mother of the baby has returned to work. This means that the mother and the father cannot take their respective leave periods at the same time. Parents would have to use other entitlements if they wanted to be off at the same time, e.g. annual leave or parental leave but even then there are restrictions to that, depending on when the leave is to be taken. The mother of the baby is effectively transferring the rest of her leave over to the father.

One of the potential reasons why the uptake of additional paternity leave is very low is the fact that the rate of pay during additional paternity leave is fixed at the normal statutory rate of, currently, £136.78. Whilst many companies offer a good maternity package of, for example, 6 months at full pay and 6 months at half pay, very few will have considered offering an enhanced pay entitlement for fathers who wish to take an extended period of time off to allow the mother to go back to work and still keep childcare within the close family. Typically, it is the father who earns more than the mother so most couples choose for the mother to remain off work and the father to continue earning his normal salary. There is, indeed, no requirement for employers to offer any payment in excess of the statutory minimum in terms of rate of payment and its duration.

Statutory payments for fathers on additional paternity leave also stop at the point that the mother’s maternity pay would have stopped, if the leave had remained with the mother. So at the 39 week point after the birth, statutory payments will stop and a father on additional paternity leave will receive no pay for the rest of the leave period.

From 2015, the Government are set to introduce shared parental leave which will mean that parents will be able to break up their periods of leave down to a minimum one week period, which they can alternate for a maximum 50 weeks should they choose.

Ordinary and Additional Paternity Leave are not only available to fathers of a baby, but also to employees who are married to, or the civil partner or partner of the child’s mother or adopter. Whatever the relationship, the employee must have, or expect to have, responsibility for the upbringing of the child.

by Nicola Mullineux

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