Joanna Cowie, head of legal at HR Insight, takes a look at the new paternity leave regulations following the Government's recent announcement to change the entitlement for fathers of children due on or after 3 April 2011.
I run a small family hotel. Two members of staff have partners who are expecting babies in the next few months. They believe that the law has changed and that they are entitled to six months' paternity leave. Is this correct?
As the law currently stands, up to two weeks' statutory paternity leave is available to employees wishing to take time off to support the mother or carer of a new baby.
However, the Government recently announced new regulations, which will allow mothers of children due on or after 3 April 2011 to transfer up to six months of their maternity leave to the baby's father when they return to work.
To qualify for paternity leave, an employee must have been employed by you for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due, must be either the biological father, the mother's husband or partner - including same-sex relationships - and must expect to have responsibility for the child's upbringing. Paternity leave is also available to an employee who is adopting.
Paternity leave is currently paid at the Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) rate of £123.06 per week - or 90% of the employee's average weekly earnings, if less. It must be taken in a single block of either one or two weeks - not odd days - and within 56 days after the child is born. Multiple births still only entitle an employee to a single period of paternity leave.
Employees wishing to take paternity leave must let you know in writing at least 15 weeks before the week when the baby is due - or within seven days of being matched for adoption.
The employee must also tell you:
- When the baby is due or when the child is expected to be placed for adoption
- Whether he intends to take one or two weeks' leave
- When the leave is due to start.
Fathers do not have a legal right to time off to accompany their partners to antenatal appointments - this right only applies to pregnant employees.
Research shows that a family-friendly culture results in good staff morale and low staff turnover. It is important to communicate with your staff and ensure that they know what's on offer and their responsibilities.
Good management is also required regarding forward planning and arranging appropriate cover during the employee's absence. Paternity leave can be managed in exactly the same way as annual leave. There is no obligation for an employee to take paternity leave and many choose to take the time off as part of their annual leave entitlement.
To enable you to manage requests for paternity leave, it is a good idea to:
- Include a paternity policy in your staff handbook and mention it during inductions
- Ensure employees follow the proper notification requirements, as set out in your handbook
- Remind employees of their notification obligations at the time they notify you of the pregnancy
- Plan ahead for paternity leave absences in the same way you would for annual leave.
During paternity leave, an employee has a statutory right to continue to benefit from all the normal terms and conditions of employment, with the exception of normal wages. These benefits might include the use of a company car or mobile phone - unless provided for business use only - gym membership, participation in share schemes, and so on.
If an employee is dismissed because he took, or requested to take, paternity leave, the dismissal is automatically unfair. This could result in a tribunal claim by the employee, with the employer being ordered to make a compensation payment to the employee of up to £77,600. Employees do not need one year's service in order to bring a claim.
Head of legal, HR Insight