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How long is paternity leave in the UK? A call for change & free policy template

How long is paternity leave in the UK? A call for change & free policy template

As a business owner, it’s ultimately within your best interests to support your employees who are new parents, so they can bring their best to work in the long run. If anything, it serves you best to go above and beyond what’s merely required of you as per UK employment law.

Since April 2024, UK employment law now offers two weeks of paternity leave, but is it really enough? Not really. 

In this guide on paternal leave, we’ve invited Rachel Carrell, CEO and founder of Koru Kids, to talk us through what paternity leave is, its legal implications and how you can have higher standards as an employer to make sure you sustain happy and high-performing teams. 

co written paternal leave rachel carrell

What is statutory paternity leave?

Statutory paternity leave is a legal entitlement for eligible employees in the UK.

Employees may take some time off work to care for their newborn or newly adopted child. This allows them to fulfil their responsibilities as a parent during a pivotal point in their child’s development, without fear of impacting their career.

Statutory paternity leave eligibility criteria

Not everyone qualifies for statutory paternity leave. Some criteria must be met first.

To be eligible for statutory paternity leave, the employee must:

  • Have a relationship with the child. They must be the biological father, the mother’s husband or partner (that works for same-sex relationships as well), or the child’s adoptive parent.
  • They must be employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth, or the end of the week in which they are notified they are matched with a child for adoption.

I feel I should point out that this is the bare minimum you’re legally required to give. I would advise you to make paternity leave longer as a strategic business decision, but more on that later. 

How long is statutory paternity leave? 

Since April 2024, statutory paternal leave can last for 2 weeks – it’s possible to take everything at the same time or separately depending on your individual needs. The leave can only start after the birth of a child. 

Do you pay your employees during paternity leave? 

Assuming an employee qualifies for statutory paternity leave, they are entitled to £172.48 a week, or 90% of their average weekly pay, whichever is lower.

After that, it’s really up to the employer to extend it. You may have a policy that allows you to get paternity leave and be paid at the same time. Again, we’ll come back to this later in this post, but it would be better for your employees to have a longer paternity leave for their wellbeing, mental health and ultimately productivity levels in the long run. 

Special circumstances for paternity leave 

If you’re unemployed 

Paternity leave does not apply to people who are not currently in a job, and will only be taken into account if you’re in a job for at least 26 weeks. 

If you’re self-employed 

Right now, the government does not offer any support for self-employed fathers, so you will have to rely on savings if you decide to take time off work. 

If you want to extend paternity leave 

It’s normal to want to spend more time with your child and be involved in their day-to-day life, but there’s currently no way to extend paternity leave when it comes to government schemes. That means you will have to rely on your employer’s policies for it to be possible. 

Why statutory paternity leave is not enough

Living in the UK, I am (and perhaps you are) lucky to be in a country that offers programmes like statutory paternity leave in the first place. How lucky, though, are we really? Statutory paternity leave is certainly better than nothing, but it’s definitely not enough either.

Babies are beautiful, magical little agents of complete chaos. The highs are high, but the lows can be very, very low. It might be not something you think about, but a few examples: 

  • Medical complications for either mother or baby – you can’t plan what happens in these situations and mothers may need more support at home. 
  • Mothers facing mental health challenges – postnatal depressions and hormonal changes can be tough and have a significant impact on mother and baby. 
  • Breastfeeding issues – breastfeeding can be difficult and can also hurt, which they don’t tell you on the NHS posters!  

Even if parents have adopted rather than given birth, it’s still a major time for adjustments. As everyone knows, newborns don’t sleep much - and sleep deprivation is literally a method of torture. 

Some parents will be well supported by family and friends, but many parents aren’t. Parenting requires mums and dads to reinvent themselves, discover and get used to a new identity, a new relationship with each other, all on very little sleep and with a new, extremely demanding boss. 

Does this seem like a good time for paternity leave to only be two weeks? 

Obviously not. One or two weeks just isn’t enough time for a new parent to adequately bond with their child, and to support the mother during her time adjusting to parenthood.  Those two weeks go by quick as a wink, and that limited time can put heaps of emotional and physical strain on a new family. 

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. The available science shows us that the early involvement of both parents in a child’s life contributes to stronger mental health for the mother, and healthier parent-child relationships. 

Bonding early on can have far-reaching impacts on a child’s life. It helps the cognitive, neurobiological and physical health outcomes that are foundational to their success as adults.

5 Business benefits of enhanced paternity leave

Offering a more generous paternity leave package isn’t just the right thing to do for your team and their families, but can also have a positive effect on how your business performs.

Here are just a few reasons I can think of for adding a little extra to your UK paternity leave policy.

1. Great candidates for your company

According to Koru Kids research, 3 in 5 fathers and non-birthing partners said a substantial paternity package would be a key factor in looking for a job. They probably aren’t being vocal about this to you - but if you don’t advertise a good paternity (and maternity!) package, you’re almost certainly missing out on great applicants.

2. Positive impact on employee morale and retention

Offering an enhanced paternity leave benefit can help employee satisfaction and engagement. Take care of your expecting parents during an important life event, and they’ll stay loyal to you.

3. Positive mental wellbeing for fathers

Extend your paternity leave period a little longer, and let the fathers at your organisation have extra quality time with their newborns. If they don’t have to stress about returning to work immediately, it’ll help with their mental health in the long run, so they’ll be ready to do great things when they come back.

4. Gender equality in the workplace

If you offer a robust paternity leave policy at your company, similar to what you may have for maternity leave for example, you send a loud and clear message that gender equality is important at your organisation. It’s a positive brand association you can shout about internally and externally. 

5. Lower gender pay gap

Part of the reason there’s a gender pay gap is that mums take much more parental leave than dads. By giving more paternity leave, you make this world a little more equal on this front. 

Tips for creating your own paternity leave policy

So much for that. How do you go about creating your own paternity leave policy at your company, though?

Here’s some guidance and best practices for offering paternity leave pay in the UK: 

For starters, begin with the legal minimums for paternity leave in the UK, which I’ve already covered. That helps you make sure you’re compliant and provides a foundation on which to build.

Benchmark against similar companies

Connect with other HR leaders in your industry, and ask them to share how they manage paternity leave.  

For inspiration, you can also check out Koru Kids ‘Paternity League’ table to see how your policies stack up against the Glassdoor Top 50 companies’. 

Remember: generous and forward-thinking policies can help you attract the best talent, so it’s important to know what similar companies offer to potential employees — it will help you stay competitive in the job market. 

Consult with team members

Talk to your employees about what they expect from a paternity leave policy. Consider launching employee feedback surveys to get their input, and implementing the best suggestions. That will help you make a policy that suits your team’s specific needs. It’ll also help your employee satisfaction and morale when your team members know they’ve been listened to.

Model your paternity leave out

Being able to afford your new policy is crucial to implementing it. It’d be terrible to become hostage to fortune or need to go back on promises. 

It can be a good idea to make some reasonable assumptions about uptake, and to stress test within a range to check your budget will cover it. People are going to be making big life decisions on the basis of this policy, so it needs to be solid. 

If need be, consult again

It may be that the modelling step exposed some tough choices, or clashed with other policies. 

It’s a good idea to: 

  • Work through these openly with clear and transparent communication about the potential obstacles
  • Get a representative subgroup of staff to discuss pros and cons and make sure the decision is considered carefully 
  • Communicate carefully, as you don’t want to be blindsided by reactions after announcing, so it’s best to test the waters and communicate step-by-step. 
  • Once that’s done, make sure you shout out your new paternity leave policy so you attract new talent and retain your best employees. 

That’s it for me, but please have a look below at Charlie’s paternity leave policy to get some inspiration. 

Paternity leave/Parental leave at CharlieHR – free template

To help you build your own paternity leave policy, we’ve included a free template below. At Charlie, we’ve chosen not to call it paternity leave, but parental leave (not to be confounded with this kind of parental leave), as we think it’s important to give equal benefits to parents. Copy and paste it, amend it or download the PDF for free. 

We’ve chosen to try and treat maternity and paternity leave as equally as possible because we believe in equal benefits for both parents, so to us it’s parental leave. However, there are some statutory rights that extend past our parental leave that are available for mothers, so we will be explicit if these are an additional maternity consideration.

This policy applies to all Charlie employees who have been on our payroll for at least 15 weeks between the baby is due. Statutory Maternity Leave applies to all Charlini mothers, regardless of the amount of time they’ve been employed. 

Parental Leave Policy

I'm expecting (or adopting) a child, what do I need to do now?  

At least 15 weeks before the baby is expected, your must tell HR and your line manager:

  • the baby's due date
  • the date that you want to start and end the first block of your parental leave
    • you may change the start date with 28 days written notice
    • you may change the end date with 8 weeks written notice
    • the earliest that leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth 
  • At least 3 weeks before Parental Leave starts, you must provide proof of the pregnancy by way of a doctor’s letter or a maternity certificate (known as an MATB1 certificate).
  • At least 15 weeks before each subsequent block of parental leave (unless being taken all in one go), we ask that you tell our HR Manager and your line manager the start and end dates of these.
    • you may change the start date with 28 days written notice
    • you may change the end date with 8 weeks written notice

What will I be paid? 

  • We offer 10 weeks of fully paid leave, and another 10 weeks paid at 50% of your full salary
  • After that, 8 weeks of leave paid at 25% 
  • And then 11 weeks at the statutory pay rate (maternity only)
  • All of this leave can be taken in blocks, apart from the first two weeks after the birth, where the mother must take time off in accordance with UK law (maternity only).
  • We ask that all Parental Leave is taken within 12 months of your child's birth or adoption date.
  • For anyone who has been with Charlie for over 3.5 years (or will have been with Charlie for 3.5 years once their parental leave comes to an end), you have the option to add your sabbatical time onto the end of parental leave.
  • We offer the same benefits as above for anyone welcoming a new member to their family via any other UK-approved route (adoption, surrogacy, foster care). We also offer the same benefits as above for those who are carrying a child for someone else (surrogates).

In addition to the above benefits, we offer an optional extra 4 weeks at 50% pay for anyone who: 

  • has a legally defined disability and is welcoming a child into their family
  • is welcoming a child with a legally defined disability into their family 
  • If you feel you would benefit from these additional weeks, please do discuss this with your line manager 

What benefits can I access before and during my parental leave? 

  • Our policy around flexible hours means that anyone welcoming a new child is free to attend any appointments they need, including check-ups, antenatal appointments or classes.
  • You will accrue annual leave as normal during your parental leave, and if you can't take all of your annual leave during our normal leave period this will be able to be rolled over.
  • We understand that not all journeys to parenthood are the same - some are much more time consuming than others - so we also offer the option to reduce your hours by up to one day a week if you are:
    • going through the adoption process
    • going through the foster care process
    • going through any fertility processes such as IVF
    • having a medically difficult pregnancy

This list isn’t exhaustive, so if you feel you would benefit from reduced hours, please do speak with your line manager as soon as you can

  • Starting a family isn’t always straightforward, so we are happy cover 50% of costs (up to £200) of a fertility test or a Pregnancy Viability Index test for whichever parent-to-be works at Charlie

While you’re on parental leave, you’ll still have access to your budgets. We’d love to support you on your journey towards welcoming a new family member by expanding the reach of your budgets! You can use the following budgets in these ways:

  • L&D/Remote working budget: you can use your L&D/remote working budget for anything that you can explain to your manager as equipment to facilitate doing your job / learning and developing within your current role. Your budget can be spent on: 
    • all L&D; conferences, books, course, travel and accommodation to and from these
    • all home set-up and work equipment
    • co-working passes
    • travel to and from the London office
    • London accommodation associated with team events
  • Wellbeing budget: can be used for postnatal depression support, in addition to private insurance, antenatal and/or postnatal osteopathy treatment or massages, or any other activities that you believe will improve your sense of wellbeing 
  • Learning & Development budget: Whilst on parental leave you can still make L&D requests for work related training, you'll need to follow the process as normal.  

What about when I return to work? 

  • We have a return to work policy that we’ll review on a case by case basis depending on how it works for the business and for you. 
  • If you’d like to return part time, we have some flexibility which we’ll discuss with you

What might working part-time look like? 

At the very least, for the first 3 months, we’d like you to work 3 full working days. By the end of month 6, we’ll have a clearer idea of what’s working well and will discuss with you what upping your days might look like.

Download our paternity leave template.webp

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