IJane Crosby, Partner and employment law specialist at Hart Brown, looks at how paternity leave rights have improved in recent years
Support for working fathers has improved in recent years. Paternity leave is available to fathers or the partners of the mother or primary adopter with an entitlement to take one or two consecutive weeks to care for their child. The effect of paternity rights and shared parental leave is to recognise equal rights to spend time with and care for the child.
Although there is still some way to go regarding gender equality when it comes to parental leave, there are many employers who are sympathetic and innovative, when it comes to providing support to fathers, by offering increased benefits above the usual paid paternity leave and offering the provision of shared parental leave.
An employee taking paternity leave can be male or female—for example: in a same-sex couple, where the female partner of the birth mother takes paternity leave and the birth mother takes maternity leave.
There is also a right to shared parental leave which fathers benefit from which allows a second person (who must be the father of child, or married to, or the civil partner of, or the partner of, that mother) to share up to 50 weeks of the mother’s maternity leave.
If benefits are granted unequally there is a risk of unlawful gender discrimination unless it can be justified. Employers should therefore be mindful of not discriminating in terms of not offering these benefits.
There are many advantages to a business offering more support to working fathers. If enhanced benefits are offered to men who are providing a positive impact on the business, such as an increase in the paid paternity leave currently offered and help with a greater work life balance, then these men will be more likely to show a commitment to the business by remaining at the company and therefore increasing productivity in the long term. Business will therefore decrease the likelihood of losing key employees.
Employees should be the most valuable asset to any business and rewarding them for their loyalty means they are more likely to stay and contribute to the business long term. I would contend that equal gender employment rights are beneficial for both the employee and the employer. An unhappy and unstable workforce will show little benefit to a business resulting in a high turnover of staff which in turn increases the costs of recruitment, training and replacing staff.
There is a general feeling that many fathers are not aware of their rights concerning paternity leave, which is very much dependent on whether a business has made it clear to its employees through communication. Those companies offering more attractive packages to their staff may attract more people to their companies and to stay there. Communication is key and this can be done through written policies, contracts of employment or verbally communicating to employees about their rights.
Changes to employment laws will help encourage more fathers to take paternity leave, but gender equality does require a change in attitudes as well, and companies who offer more attractive parental leave policies can lead the way in helping to effect a change. Managers and executives can lead the way when it comes to championing paternity leave by being positive about offering parental leave and actively discussing with the employees the benefits of taking their full entitlement.