10 March, 2011
The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations will come into force in April this year and represent a significant shake up of paternity rights.
They entitle fathers, civil partners or adoptive parents up to 6 months additional paternity leave. Their aim is to allow parents to share the care arrangements of a child at an earlier stage.
This will be available where the mother returns to work early and it is then open to the father to use up the balance. The mother must still take 20 weeks off before the father can take the leave and this must be a continuous period. They cannot swap between themselves.
There are similar notice requirements to maternity leave. Fathers must give not less than 8 weeks notice which will include a mother and employee declaration. The employers can then within 28 days request the child's birth certificate and mothers employment details.
Nick Clegg has also recently announced that the Government wants to go further and is intending to consult on proposed changes. It remains to be seen what these changes will be. Mr Clegg said that the Government would consult on a "proper" flexible system of parental leave to be introduced in 2015.
One proposal is to allow parents to share the overall leave allowance between them in blocks or lots of chunks. Also, to allow fathers to take up to ten months statutory paternity leave, in circumstances where the partner/mother returns to work and the balance of the leave is taken up by the father.
This will inevitably cause problems for employers, not least because of the fact that many couples will not necessarily work in the same establishment. Many smaller employers, and indeed employers as a whole already cite maternity/paternity leave as being a potentially difficult issue for them to deal with insofar as keeping jobs available for the parent to return to following the period of leave.
There are clearly potential administrative issues. Employers do need to plan for this and ensure that they have appropriate policies and procedures in place.
One potential issue is going to be who will be entitled to enhanced maternity pay under the new rules in April, in circumstances where the employer provides for enhanced maternity pay currently. It could be argued that failure to do so, following April, could amount to sex discrimination since women could be entitled to the enhanced maternity pay but the employer may deny this to fathers.