The UK Government has revealed longer term proposals that will offer greater parity of rights between parents when it comes to maternity and paternity leave and has announced that it will press ahead with the additional paternity leave rights.

Under current rules, women are entitled to up to one year’s maternity leave. The first six weeks is paid at 90% of salary, and the next 33 weeks are paid at the statutory maternity pay rate of approximately £125 per week. Fathers are entitled to take up to two weeks’ leave around the time of the birth, again paid at up to £125 per week.

From April 2011, the position changes under laws introduced under the last government, and adopted by this one. The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010 provide that when a baby is expected to be born after 6 April 2011, even if it is actually born a little earlier, the mother will be able to transfer the second half of her year-long maternity entitlement to the father.

Simon Rice-Birchall, partner at international law firm Eversheds, comments:

“The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010 will mean that, from April, new fathers will be able to take up to six months leave in place of the current two weeks. This may or may not be paid leave, depending upon the amount of statutory maternity pay already received by the mother. Certain qualifying conditions also apply, such as a minimum period of employment of six months and the giving of at least eight weeks’ notice to the employer.

“There will inevitably be a degree of nervousness amongst employers regarding these changes and the extent to which organisations will need to adapt to accommodate greater absences amongst male workers. They will certainly need to review their policies but, moreover, their approach to parental absence in many cases. The Government has furthermore pledged to consult with businesses over “a new, properly flexible system of shared parental leave” for 2015 which would allow parents even greater choice over how or when childcare responsibilities are shared. The previous government had estimated that between 10 and 20,000 fathers may take up the right to additional paternity leave each year and it will be interesting to see whether this transpires. Their ability to do so was given a large boost last year by a decision of the European Court, which suggests fathers should be entitled to the same enhanced benefits on paternity leave as their employer would pay to a woman during the second six months of her maternity leave.

“However, perhaps most interesting of all will be whether these reforms, coupled with other sociological shifts in attitude to equality, will engender more far reaching consequences in the work place. Surely, in future, the care of new additions to the family will be less likely to be viewed as the preserve of mothers. If so, over time, this may command a sea change in attitudes towards female workers and significant re-evaluation of employment rights. With pressure from Europe also, employers will need to start thinking about issues such as whether to extend enhanced maternity pay schemes to fathers – new territory for most.”