Paternity leave

Employers' guide to understanding paternity leave and pay in the UK

First published on Thursday, Apr 20, 2023

Last updated on Monday, Apr 08, 2024

Supporting your employees through major life events is not only compassionate but also essential for fostering a positive work environment.

One such event is the arrival of a new child, and for many working fathers or partners in the UK, paternity leave is not only a vital benefit but a statutory employment right.

As an employer, understanding the ins and outs of paternity leave can help you better support your employees during this significant time in their lives.

So, let's delve into paternity leave, statutory paternity pay, and how you can support your employees who take paternity leave and pay.

What is paternity leave?

Paternity leave is time off work that eligible employees take following the birth or adoption of a child.

In the UK, fathers, partners, and the second parent in same-sex relationships, are entitled to take paternity leave to bond with their new child and support their partner during the early stages of parenthood.

However, it's not just limited to when a baby is born or when an employee is adopting a child, it can also be used when an employee is having a child through a surrogacy arrangement.

Same sex couple feeding baby in highchair

Key regulations for statutory paternity leave and pay

Understanding the key regulations surrounding paternity leave is essential for employers to ensure compliance and support their employees effectively.

Here's a more detailed look at the key regulations governing statutory paternity leave in the UK:

Length of paternity leave

If you have an employee who is eligible for statutory paternity leave, they are allowed to take up to two weeks of leave. This leave doesn't have to be taken in consecutive weeks, they can choose to either take it all at once or in separate blocks of one week each.

The amount of leave is the same if the employee happens to have twins and the week of leave is the same number of days that your employee normally works in a week—for example, if your employee only works 4 days a week, the week of leave will be 4 days.

It's not unusual for new parents to want to spend time with their new child, bonding and supporting their partner in adjusting to parenthood. And sometimes they may want more than two weeks off work.

In these situations, your employee can request annual leave, unpaid parental leave or shared parental leave.

Timing of paternity leave

Paternity leave can't be taken before the child is born and can be taken within 52 days of the baby's birth or adoption placement. Employees are also required to tell you at least 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth (EWC) that they want to take paternity leave.

However, they're not required to give a precise date for when they want to start paternity leave at this time, they only have to give you a general time—for example, the due date or two weeks after the baby is born.

This flexibility allows employees to choose a time that works best for their family circumstances while ensuring they can be present during the initial stages of their child's life.

You should be prepared to accommodate requests for paternity leave within this timeframe.

Notification requirements for paternity leave

As mentioned above your employees are required to notify you of their intention to take paternity leave and pay within a specified timeframe of 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.

Once they have decided on the actual date they want to take their paternity leave, they must give you 28 days' notice.

This involves providing notice in writing, specifying:

  • The expected week the baby is due
  • The intended start date of paternity leave
  • The duration of leave requested
  • If they are the biological father, married to or the partner of the child’s mother the child's mother (including same-sex couples)

You should make sure that your employees are aware of these notification requirements and provide clear guidance on how to submit the necessary paperwork.

Statutory paternity pay

Employees are entitled to paid paternity leave (statutory paternity pay) if they earn at least £123 a week before tax and continue to work for the same employer until the child is born or placed with them.

The statutory weekly rate of paternity pay is £184.03 or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

If your employee is an adoptive parent, they may also be entitled to statutory adoption pay. Which is calculated at the same rate as paternity pay.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that employees are aware of their entitlements regarding paternity pay and that payments are processed accurately and on time.

This financial support during paternity leave helps alleviate the stress of being away from work and allows employees to focus on their new family responsibilities.

Eligibility criteria for paternity leave

To take paternity leave your employee must be one of the following:

  • The biological father
  • The spouse, partner, or civil partner of the birth mother (including same-sex partners)
  • The intended parent (if having a baby through a surrogate mother)

Essentially, to take paternity leave your employee must share or is expected to share the main responsibility for the child's upbringing.

They also need to be legally classed as an employee and have worked for you continuously for at least 26 weeks by either:

  • The end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (qualifying week)
  • The week they're matched with a child for UK adoptions (matching week)

As an employer, it is crucial to understand and follow these key regulations to effectively support your employees through paternity leave while maintaining compliance with relevant employment laws.

By doing so, you can ensure that your employees feel valued and supported during this important time in their lives, while also protecting your business from potential legal issues.

Parent on paternity leave holding their newborn baby

Paternity leave and surrogacy

In cases of surrogacy, where the child is not biologically related to the father or partner taking paternity leave, the regulations surrounding paternity leave in the UK can be more complex.

However, eligible employees who are becoming parents through surrogacy are still entitled to paternity leave and pay, provided they meet certain criteria.

Under UK law, intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement can be eligible for paternity leave and pay if they expect to have the main responsibility for the child's upbringing. And are married to, or the civil partner, or partner, of the other intended partner.

The intended parents must also have a:

  • Genetic connection to the child, either through sperm donation or egg donation provided for the surrogacy or through a genetic link to one of the parents involved.
  • Legal relationship with the child, via a parental order.

It's worth noting that the eligibility criteria for paternity leave and pay can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the surrogacy arrangement.

So, it's recommended to seek legal advice and guidance in these situations.

Supporting your employees taking paternity leave and pay

Supporting employees during paternity leave goes beyond just complying with regulations—it's about creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture where employees feel valued and supported during significant life events.

Here are some additional ways you can support your employees during paternity leave:

Provide clear paternity leave and pay policies

It's always best practice to make sure that your company's policies are clear and accessible to all employees. When creating your own paternity leave policy make sure to include information on eligibility criteria, how to apply for leave, and details about pay entitlements.

Just remember to make the policy easily accessible (which could be done via an online HR platform) and to include the policy in the employment contract.

Offer a flexible working pattern

Offering your employees flexible work arrangements can help ease their transition back to work after being away on paternity leave. Some options to consider are remote work, flexible hours, or a gradual return to full-time hours.

Having flexibility in work schedules allows employees to balance their work and family responsibilities better, making it more manageable for them to fulfil both roles effectively.

Use open communication

It’s essential to maintain open communication with employees during their paternity leave and after their return to work. It’s best practice to check on them periodically to see how they are doing and address any concerns they may have regarding their workload or transition back to work.

By creating a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs, it can help facilitate a smoother return to work.

Treat all employees equal

It's important to treat employees taking paternity leave with the same level of respect and consideration as those taking other forms of leave.

Your employees are protected by law from any form of discrimination or bias based on their decision to take time off to care for their child.

If an employee feels that they are being treated unfairly because of taking paternity leave, they have the right to raise a grievance. If the problem persists, they can make a claim to an employment tribunal.

In order to create a culture of equality and fairness, it’s important to ensure that all employees feel valued and supported, regardless of their family circumstances.

Same sex couple on a walk while lifting their baby

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about statutory paternity leave and statutory paternity pay:

Can an employee change the start date of their paternity leave?

If an employee wants to change the start date of their leave, they usually must provide their employer with a notice period of 28 days. This notice period doesn't necessarily have to be in writing unless the employer requests it. However, it's recommended to have a written record of the notice, which can be in the form of a letter or email.

In some situations, it may not be feasible for the employee to provide a 28-day notice of the change, for example, if the baby is born early or late.

Can an employee use paternity leave if there's a stillbirth?

In the unfortunate event of a stillbirth or if the baby dies soon after birth, it can be incredibly difficult for the employee. In these situations, the employee still qualifies for paternity leave and pay, if the baby is stillborn from 24 weeks of pregnancy or born alive at any point in the pregnancy but later dies.

If the employee is eligible for parental bereavement leave and pay, they have the right to take this after they finish their paternity leave.

Are antenatal appointments part of paternity leave?

By law, employees taking statutory paternity leave can attend up to 2 pregnancy-related or adoption appointments. This includes appointments with a surrogate mother. They can take up to 6.5 hours per appointment, including travel.

There is no legal requirement to offer pay for these antenatal appointments, but employees can request to use their annual leave for this time off or make up the hours later.

Paternity leave and pay advice for employers from BrightHR

As an employer, understanding and supporting employees through paternity leave, not only demonstrates your commitment to their wellbeing but also contributes to a positive workplace culture.

The first step towards achieving this is having the right tools in place to help you fully understand and support your employees.

BrightHR offers a range of such tools, including a 24/7 employment law advice line and an HR document library with hundreds of policy templates, guides and more, including a paternity policy that you can tailor specifically to your business needs.

Not a BrightHR customer? Experience these tools for yourself by booking a free product demo today.


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