Fathers could soon be at home looking after the baby whilst mothers return to their careers as the Coalition Government attempts to roll out the idea of ‘shared parenting’. So, will stay at home dads really be the future?

Well, under the plans to introduce additional paternity leave, parents of children born on or after 3 April this year will have more flexibility in relation to their childcare arrangements as father can take up to 26 weeks additional paternity leave once their child is 20 weeks old provided the mother returns to work.

Currently, there is a huge discrepancy between the amount of maternity leave a mother can take compared to the amount of paternity leave a father can take as mothers can take up to 52 weeks leave whereas father can take just one or two weeks leave.

Additional paternity leave addresses this inequality and if the additional paternity leave is taken during the mother’s maternity pay period, paternity leave will be paid at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay – which is likely to give families where the mother is the main earner more incentive to return to work early leaving the father in charge.
It is not just fathers that will be eligible for additional paternity leave. The spouse, partner or civil partner of the child’s mother or the child’s adopter will also be eligible provided that they have responsibility for the upbringing of the child.

If you want to take advantage of additional paternity leave, however, you must have been employed for a minimum period of 26 weeks by the end of the week immediately proceeding to the 14th week before the child’s expected week of childbirth or the week and you must also stay in employment with that same employer until you want to take the additional paternity leave.

There are also some notification requirements in that you must give at least eight weeks’ notice of his intention to take additional paternity leave and submit various forms including a declaration from the mother that she will return to work.

What will this mean for employers? The introduction of this new right perhaps reflects a culture change where childcare is increasingly seen as a joint responsibility of both sexes, particularly in households where the mother is the breadwinner. And whilst this new right may, initially at least, be slow on the up take it is likely that ‘stay at home dads’ will become increasingly common. Employers will need to adjust to this and of course will need to be aware that this is a legal right with teeth and employees will be protected from detrimental treatment and dismissal for reasons with paternity leave.

Employers should therefore start making preparations now and update (or introduce) paternity and maternity policies to guide managers through the procedure for dealing with this new right. They should also ensure that new paternity leave request forms are introduced together with father and mother declaration forms and update adoption policies.

‘This information is believed to be correct as of the date published. It is not a substitute for legal advice and no liability attaches to its use. Specific and personal legal advice should be taken on any individual matter’.