Paternity leave for fathers, co-parents and civil partners

Paternity leave is available to fathers, co-parents and civil partners, and laws apply equally if you’re adopting a child. Here’s everything you need to know about how to get the most out of your entitlement.

Paternity leave is a live political issue and the entitlement differs between countries across Europe. In Sweden, parents get 12 months, which are to be shared between the two parents, with two months minimum for both the mother and the father. This means the father must take two months off within the first year of the child’s life. Germany is fairly generous too, while Spain last year increased its paternity leave for all fathers to four weeks.

The UK is near the bottom end of the scale in Europe, with two weeks paid paternity leave available to fathers and other kinds of co-parents. The two weeks must be taken consecutively and can’t be taken as the odd day here and there.

The good news is that, since the introduction of shared parental leave in 2015, parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave – 37 weeks of which is paid – between them if the mother returns to work early or does not wish to use all her maternity leave and pay. You can read our guide to shared parental leave here. For information about paternity leave read on.

Who can get paternity leave?

Paternity leave is not, despite its name, only for biological fathers. It's for all co-parents, civil partners, and any partner (including same sex partners), who, in the words of the law, is “in an enduring family relationship” with the baby’s mother and expects to have the main responsibility for bringing up the baby (with the mother).

To qualify for paternity leave, you must be an employee and have worked for your employer for 26 weeks or more by the beginning of the 15th week before the baby's due date.

Can partners take time off work for antenatal appointments?

Partners are legally entitled to take unpaid time off to accompany the baby’s mother to two antenatal appointments. You get up to six-and-a-half hours leave for each appointment (including travel time). Think this won’t be enough time? You could try working from home on the day of an appointment, if that gives you more leeway to stay within the six-and-a-half hours, or offer to make up the extra time later.

As ever, when it comes to relations between employers and employees, communication is key. Tell your employer which antenatal appointments you wish to attend and, if possible, give good notice. You may only wish to attend pregnancy scans but, if there are concerns or tests are required, you might need more than the standard amount of antenatal leave. If necessary, you could use annual leave for this.

Some employers offer paid time off for appointments and some offer more time off than the legal minimum of two six-and-a-half hour days, so check your contract or ask your employer about the procedure in your workplace.

Employers are entitled to ask for a written declaration regarding antenatal appointments, stating:

  • Date and time of appointments
  • That you are the partner of the pregnant woman
  • That you are going to the appointment
  • That the appointment is on the advice of doctor, midwife or nurse

If you are refused time off for antenatal appointments you can make a complaint in an employment tribunal within three months (less one day) from the date of the appointment. Contact ACAS about how to go about it, although hopefully it won’t come to that and your employer will be accommodating to your needs.

Paternity leave

You are entitled to ordinary paternity leave where the purpose of your absence is:

  • To care for a newborn child
  • To care for an adopted child under age 18
  • To support the child's mother

When a couple adopt a child, one person may take adoption leave and the other may take paternity leave. The guidance on paternity leave and adoption included below covers domestic adoptions; there are slightly different rules for overseas adoptions.

For ordinary paternity leave, the father (or partner) may take one whole week or two consecutive whole weeks. The entitlement cannot be broken up into odd days. It can start any time in the eight weeks after the baby is born (or, if the baby was premature, up to eight weeks after the date when the baby was due). In relation to adoption, the leave can start any time up to eight weeks after the child is placed with the adopter.

Unfortunately, you can't wait and see when you might want to take paternity leave and how much you might want to take. In order to be entitled, you must give notice to your employer, in or before the 15th week before the baby’s due date.

To establish the deadline for notifying your employer of paternity leave, find the Sunday before the due date (or the due date, if it’s a Sunday) on your calendar and count backwards 15 Sundays. That is the start of the 15th week before the due date and the date by which you need to give notice to your employer.

Paternity leave – notifying your employer

In your notice of paternity leave, include:

  • The baby’s due date
  • The length of leave you want to take
  • The date from which you want to take the leave

You should self-certificate your notice of paternity leave. Download, print and complete the government’s form SC3, making a copy to keep for your own records before submitting it to your employer. You can use the same form to declare your entitlement to paternity pay.

Paternity leave when adopting a baby

When you’re adopting a child, it’s not always possible to be precise about the dates that you will need to be at home. Employers should be understanding about this and try to be flexible about accommodating you. There are, however, guidelines to which you should try to adhere as closely as possible.

You must give your employer notice of your paternity leave no more than seven days after the date on which you are officially notified of having been matched with a child. In your notice, include:

  • The date on which the adopter was notified that he or she had been matched with the child
  • The date on which the child is expected to be placed with the adopter
  • The length of the period of leave that you have chosen to take
  • The date on which you have chosen to begin your leave

You can vary the date you want to take your paternity leave, but generally you will have to give your employer 28 days' notice (or give notice as soon as possible if for some reason it's not possible to give 28 days). If you have picked a particular date to start your paternity leave and the baby/child has not come to you by then, you can push back your leave start date.

Statutory Paternity Pay

To qualify for Statutory Paternity Leave , you must be an employee, agency or casual worker and have worked for your employer/agency for 26 weeks or more by the beginning of the 15th week before the baby's due date. You must be earning more than £116 a week before tax in the relevant qualifying period.

Unless your contract provides for a more generous sum (do check), you will be entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay. You will be paid either a flat rate of £145.18 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is less.

Statutory Paternity Pay is paid in the same way as your wages (e.g. monthly or weekly), with tax and National Insurance deducted. All employers, regardless of size, are reimbursed by HMRC.

During paternity leave, you are entitled to any other benefits you might be due under your contract and you are entitled to return to your job with no loss of seniority, contractual rights etc.

Mistreatment as a result of taking paternity leave

If your employer does not pay you Statutory Paternity Pay or has gone into liquidation, you can contact the HMRC Statutory Payments Disputes Team on 0300 056 0630 and they will check your eligibility and arrange payment.

If your employer treats you unfairly because you took your paternity leave, for example, refusing a promotion, you may be able to make a claim in an employment tribunal. Contact ACAS and take advice promptly if you think this has happened, as the time limit for presenting a complaint to an employment tribunal is generally three months (less one day) from the date of the bad treatment.

Paternity leave and miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death

If your baby is stillborn before the end of the 24th week of pregnancy, it is regarded as a miscarriage. If the mother’s labour takes place after the end of the 24th week, it is regarded as a stillbirth.

You do not get paternity leave if your partner suffers a miscarriage. If your baby is stillborn or dies after the birth, you are entitled to paternity leave and pay. The parents receive a stillbirth or death certificate which you might need to produce to prove that you’re entitled to paternity leave.

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