As the world waits for the arrival of Royal baby Cambridge we consider the current statutory paternity leave entitlements of expectant fathers and how these are expected to change in the future.
While some employers offer more generous contractual benefits, the only legal requirement is for the statutory minimum entitlement to paternity leave and statutory paternity pay to be offered to employees.
Statutory paternity leave and pay is also available to those who adopt and similar rights and obligations to those set out below apply in adoption cases.
Statutory paternity leave: ordinary paternity leave
Since 6 April 2003, employees who satisfy various eligibility requirements have been entitled to take either one week or two consecutive weeks' Ordinary Paternity Leave (OPL).
The purpose of OPL is to enable an employee to care for a child, or to support the child's mother. Such leave must be taken within 56 days of a child's birth.
The eligibility criteria are that:
- the employee must have sufficient service with their employer (at least 26 weeks ending with the week immediately prior to the 14th week before the expected week of childbirth);
- the employee must be either: the child's father or the spouse, civil partner or partner (including same sex) of the child's mother;
- the employee has or expects to have responsibility for the child's upbringing.
The employee's contract remains in force during OPL so that contractual terms, other than those relating to wages or salary, continue. Both continuity of service and holiday entitlement continue to accrue during OPL.
Statutory paternity leave: additional paternity leave
Since 3 April 2011, any employee entitled to OPL has also, potentially, been entitled to Additional Paternity Leave (APL).
In addition to the eligibility criteria set out above the employee must satisfy the applicable notice and evidential requirements, such as provision of declarations from both themselves and the mother. Importantly, even if these requirements are satisfied APL is only available to a father where the mother has returned to work after maternity leave.
An employee's APL may last between two weeks and 26 weeks. APL must be taken within a set period that starts 20 weeks after, and ends 12 months after, the child's birth.
Statutory paternity pay
The rate of statutory pay during both OPL and APL is the lesser of:
- the prescribed rate which is set by the Government each year, currently £136.78 a week; and
- 90% of the employee's normal weekly earnings.
An employee is entitled to be paid for between 2 and 26 weeks APL only where the mother has returned to work without exhausting their maternity pay. The father will be entitled to receive pay during the remaining balance of that period.
A new system of optional shared parental leave enabling both parents to be away from work at the same time is expected to come into force in 2015. From that time APL will be abolished but OPL will still be available for those who choose not to take shared parental leave.
Prince William's employer, the RAF, is unlikely to quibble about the amount of time off he wishes to take to be with his newborn. However, a recent study by the TUC found that fewer than 1% of fathers take APL due to the fact that they cannot afford to live on the statutory pay rate.
The introduction of shared parental leave will be a significant change of practice for employers and they should start planning for this now - policies and procedures will need to be amended. Employers who offer enhanced maternity leave benefits may wish to take the opportunity to review these and how they will be applied in the "shared" environment from 2015.