Could we be about to see 12 weeks of paternity leave?

Recent media speculation has suggested that Theresa May is considering plans to extend the amount of paternity leave made available to working fathers as one of her ‘legacy policies’ before departing the office of Prime Minister.

If reports are to be believed, the plan is for fathers to receive 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, with employers having to pay eligible staff 90% of their current salary for the first 4 weeks. This represents a drastic increase from the two weeks of statutory paternity leave that employers must currently allow, during which eligible employees receive the statutory rate of paternity pay, which stands at £148.68 per week.

The case for extending paternity leave had originally been proposed by the Women and Equalities Committee, who suggested that a greater allowance would encourage more men to take longer periods of leave with their newborn children. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in 2015 with the hope of achieving the same aim, however this has largely failed to take off, with studies showing just 1% of eligible parents opted to take SPL last year.

Although we await any real confirmation, the prospect of increased paternity leave does raise some interesting points for employers to consider. On the positive side, increased leave opportunities could prove helpful in combating burn-out amongst new fathers during what can be a particularly stressful period. This could in turn help combat health issues and reduce the negative stigma that can so often surround those who take time off for parental commitments.  

The introduction of additional paternity leave could also prove to have a positive impact on the UK’s gender pay gap. The fact that men traditionally spend less time off work to care for children compared to women is believed to have contributed to the current disparity in job seniority and pay, with extended time away from work thought to hinder women’s career progression and earning opportunities. Therefore, the option for men to take more time away from work following the birth of their child could help offset any existing pay gap.

Having said this, it is natural for employers to have some concerns about the proposed change as the prospect of having staff away from work on paid leave for a longer period of time could pose a significant threat to productivity. If introduced, employers will need to place an increased emphasis on planning appropriate cover for staff during periods of paternity leave, which could prove especially problematic for those with limited resources.

In addition, those who offer enhanced paternity leave to staff as an incentive may have this benefit negated as it could end up actually being lower than the statutory minimum. Many employers actively offer enhanced family friendly rights as a way of attracting and retaining key talent, a strategy which could be placed in jeopardy if paternity leave is extended as has been suggested.

Whilst no changes are required yet, employers are advised to keep their ear to the ground and remain aware of any future developments. Given the ongoing trend which has focused on improving rights for workers across the board, it may only be a matter of time before paternity leave entitlement is increased.

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