For the longest time, child rearing has been delegated as the task of women, but more and more societies are trying to change that outdated concept. One of the most obvious differences done over the years is the creation of paternity leave, or a father’s rights to take time off from work to care for his child and spouse. Despite these changes, only a small percentage of fathers choose to take their leave.
If you’re about to be a dad and you’re curious to know what your rights are in all of this, then read on to find how you can take advantage of paternity leave… and why you most definitely should.
What Are Your Paternity Rights?
In 2015, the UK passed a policy where parents are able to share 50 weeks of leave after the birth of their child. Aptly called shared parental leave (SPL), it allows for couples to take their leave individually or together. You and your spouse may also qualify for statutory shared parental pay, which is paid for up to 37 weeks. But if you’re planning to take time off together, it’s worth noting that pay entitlements are also shared, which means you have 37 weeks of pay between you, and not each.
Meanwhile, ordinary paternity leave refers to your right to take one or two weeks’ leave around the time of the birth or adoption of a new born baby. Take note, however, that if you decide to take two weeks, it must be taken together, so you can’t space the days apart.
Ordinary paternity leave must also be taken within eight weeks of your child’s birth. Technically, your employer is not required to pay for this leave (although no one’s stopping them from doing so) but don’t fret: if you don’t get paid by your employer, you’re still entitled to receive a statutory weekly pay of £145.18, or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever amount is lower. Apart from this, you’re also entitled to unpaid time off to attend two antenatal appointments.
Despite the many proven benefits of paternity leave, the US still lags behind in creating stronger policies that protect family rights. In fact, it’s the only developed country that doesn’t require paid parental leave. Out of its 50 states, only California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York have addressed this issue head-on and have made provisions in their state laws to include paid parental leave.
However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does guarantee 12 weeks of unpaid leave, provided that the company you work for has over 50 employees and that you’ve accrued at least 1,250 work hours.
When it comes to other employee rights, the UK and the US have laws to ensure that the employer still contributes to your health insurance. Both countries also have policies that should protect you against discriminatory acts such as being fired or side-lined for a promotion while on leave.
How Do You Know If You’re Eligible?
To be eligible of these rights in the UK, you must be one of the following:
- the father of the child
- the husband or partner of the mother having the child (which also applies to same-sex partners)
- the child’s adopter
- if you’re having a baby through surrogacy, the intended parent.
The law applies to unmarried men, too. If you’re cohabiting with your partner, you’re also entitled to the same rights, although you may have to fill some paperwork to prove that you’ve been living together for some time.
Naturally, you must be an employee to avail of these benefits. To qualify, you must be employed by the company for over six months.
While no one ever wishes for this to happen, if you and your partner ever suffer from the unfortunate incident of losing your baby after six months of pregnancy, you’ll still be entitled to take paternity leave. But if your circumstances don’t qualify you for ordinary paternity leave (for example, if you’ve been in the company for less than six months), then you may opt to take compassionate leave instead.
The US has similar qualifications to the UK, only it has stricter guidelines when it comes to same-sex partners since not all states recognise it as a legal union. In 2014, however, the Department of Labour issued an amendment to extend the rights to same-sex spouses, but these rules must, again, yield to state law.
What Do You Do Before Your Paternity Leave?
To ensure that you enjoy these benefits, it is crucial that you inform your employer about your intended leave at least 15 weeks prior to your baby’s due date. Should you wish to change the date of your leave, you must give your employers a minimum of 28 weeks’ notice.
You must be earning a net of at least £116 a week. You will also be required to submit an SC3 form to your employer. Make sure to give this during the same time you inform them of your leave, around three to four months before the baby is born, to avoid running into any inconvenience. (Better yet, make use of the paternity planner that the UK government has so kindly provided to make computations simpler.)
In the US, when you take your paternity leave usually depends on company policy, but you are required by federal law to give your employer at least 30 days’ notice.
Do Fathers Take Paternity Leave?
Every day, there are thousands of movements all over the world to change how the workplace and society should view gender. But even with the giant strides made to improve family rights, there’s still a lot left to be done, especially when it comes to paternity leave. As a developed country, the US is a prime example of how men are still thought of as having a minor role in a child’s upbringing, despite numerous studies suggesting otherwise.
While the UK is striving to make a difference, the uptake on these rights has been quite dismal. In fact, only 2% of fathers have taken advantage of the shared parental policy, even if research shows that the majority of them want to.
According to the 2017 Modern Families Index, 7 out of 10 fathers say that they would consider their childcare needs before taking a new job or a promotion, and that 47% want to downshift into a less stressful job because they can’t balance the demands of work and family life. But even with legions of fathers wanting to spend more quality time at home, they’re also afraid of the consequences it may have on their careers.
A 2017 study by law firm EMW suggests that men still dread the cultural stigma surrounding fathers who choose to take paternity leave. They’re afraid of not being taken seriously at work or, worse, being out of a job. Meanwhile, increased financial pressures, such as welcoming a new born, also discourage them from taking extra time off.
Much like women, men are also forced to fit certain stereotypes. But society stands to gain so much more if they’re allowed to take better care of their families. To quote Shakespeare: ‘It is a wise father that knows his child,’ but he’ll only be to do that if we make sure he’s able to do so.
What are your thoughts on paternity leave? Share them with us in the comments section below.