Comments made in Parliament by Theresa May, Minister for Women and Equalities, suggest that regulations introduced by the Labour government to extend paternity leave for fathers could be postponed and, ultimately, rewritten by the Coalition.

The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010, which were made just three weeks before Parliament was dissolved for the general election, give fathers of babies due on or after 3 April 2011 the right to take up to 6 months’ paternity leave (in addition to their existing two week entitlement).

However, the coalition’s ‘Programme for Government’ indicated that the new Government has different plans for paternity and maternity rights, promising a new ‘system of flexible parental leave’.

Asked by Julian Smith MP about her plans for the 2010 Regulations and for reassurance that parental leave rights would not be changed more than once in the current Parliament, Theresa May responded “we are looking into how we can avoid constantly requiring businesses to effect innovations, and we are examining the timetabling of the additional paternity leave and flexible parental leave regulations.”

Audrey Williams, head of discrimination at international law firm Eversheds comments:

“Under the Regulations that are due to apply from next year, fathers will only be able to take additional paternity leave if the mother has returned to work, and even then not before the baby is 20 weeks old. The coalition appears to prefer for a more radical approach that would give parents more flexibility over how and when they share leave between them, possibly including both parents taking time off simultaneously.”

“It would be unfortunate if the Government were to allow the existing Regulations to take effect only then to change the system a short time later. So it is reassuring to learn that the Government is alert to the difficulties that would cause. But employers and employees alike need to know sooner rather than later whether or not the Regulations will take effect next year.

“Employers have to put a lot of work into preparing for new legislation like this, understanding how the changes will affect their business, adapting policies and training staff. If they start, or continue, that process there will be abortive costs if the Government withdraws the Regulations. But if they don’t start preparing now they could be caught out if the Regulations take effect as originally planned.”