Dads, want to take more time off to look after the baby?
(A version of this article was published in the Fife Business Journal, which you can read here)
The world’s changing. From having no rights to spend time with their newborns a few years ago, dads now have significant rights to take time off work and get a minimum amount of pay. What’s more, dads’ rights are becoming nearly the same as mums’.
Just think about where we have come from. In the old days, a mum got no maternity leave from her work and in many cases even had to give up her job when she got pregnant. Over the last 30 years, mums have been given more and more maternity leave rights and pay. Now they can have 1 year off work, and 9 months’ (39 weeks’) statutory maternity pay (SMP), currently £138.18 a week, or 90% of average weekly earnings if that is less than SMP. If average normal pay is higher than SMP, the first 6 weeks of leave is paid at 90% of normal pay. Some employers – usually bigger companies or public sector organisations – are more generous with the pay.
Only since 2003 have dads get in on the action. But only in a small way to start with. They were given the right to 2 weeks off around the time of the childbirth which had to be taken in a one week or two week block. Unlike mums during the first few weeks, they are only entitled to the statutory pay, not 90% of their normal pay. The paternity rights also apply to adoptions.
Things changed significantly in 2011. Since then, dads can take up to 26 weeks’ extra paternity leave, starting from 20 weeks after childbirth and up until the child’s first birthday. The child’s mum must have gone back to work and have stopped receiving SMP. Dads will then get the remainder of the statutory pay up until the end of the 39 week statutory pay period. They have to give 8 weeks’ notice to their employer and must give certain details about the date of childbirth, the relationship to the mother and that the leave is to take care of the child.
The latest proposal is that the dads will be able to take up most of the joint maternity/paternity leave during the first year other than the first two weeks after childbirth, where the mum is the main breadwinner. This proposal is due to come into effect in 2015, although it has stalled in government.
How many fathers are taking advantage of these new rights? In a 2013 survey by Opinion Matters, 40% of dads chose not to take any paternity leave at all. The same survey showed that dads wanted more flexibility from work and the ability to work part-time, but that they have real concerns about damaging their prospects at work and the social stigma attached to working less and spending more time looking after the children.
But put another way, this means that 60% of dads do choose to take paternity leave. This shows that laws can change habits and attitudes. We may not be at Scandinavian levels of stay-at-home dads just yet, but we’ve moved a long way in 13 years and this trend is set to continue. Will you take your full paternity leave?
© Ben Thornber, Thornber Employment Law