Fathers to benefit from improvements to paid paternity leave?

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It has been reported in the press that outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May has proposed offering fathers 12 weeks’ paid paternity leave.  This is part of a series of legacy policies that she hopes to implement before she leaves office.

If implemented it has been suggested that the first four weeks would be payable at the rate of 90% of salary with the remaining eight weeks payable at a standard flat (capped) rate.

If true, this would result in a dramatic improvement on the current two weeks’ paternity leave entitlement which is capped at £148 per week or 90% of salary, whichever is the lower.

The Women and Equalities committee suggested extending parental leave for fathers last year and couched it as a ‘use it or lose it’ entitlement in the hope that more fathers would take advantage of a longer period of leave.

The main issue as always with these family friendly rights are that they are all well and good if you are actually able to afford to take the time off at the reduced rates of pay that they attract.  Many fathers who are the main breadwinner are simply not in a financial position to take time off which would result in a significant reduction in their earnings for that period and at a time when finances are strained.

Unfortunately, as we have seen with shared parental leave, it has to date not proved too effectual either with only 9,200 new parents taking advantage of it in 2018 which represents 1% of those who were eligible to do so.   It is likely that both financial disincentives and a failure to promote these rights are the cause of the low take up.

There is also the issue of small and medium sized businesses who argue that it would be difficult for them to accommodate both the time off and to maintain such increased payments.  Many firms would probably need to find temporary workers or allow other colleagues to shoulder the burden of any additional work caused by the absent father.

In an ideal world parental leave should be automatic and payable at the actual salary rate of the fathers who need the time off for its intended purpose which is to support the new addition to their family.    The issue as to who pays whether it is the employer, or the taxpayer detracts from the intended purpose of introducing these rights which is for fathers to take time off to support their families.

In the current political climate, there is also no guarantee that these proposals will become law as time is short before a new Prime Minister takes over and is combined with resistance from the current Chancellor of the Exchequer who is against any form of public spending spree.

Steven Eckett is a Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP.    If you have any issues relating to family friendly rights, then contact Steven on 020 7703 5034 or by e-mail seckett@meaby.co.uk