September 8, 2022
It is fair to say that there has been a shift when it comes to parenting responsibilities and working life. Whilst in days gone by, the responsibility of family matters appeared to fall on the responsibility of mothers, in more recent times we have seen a positive shift and fathers are taking a more proactive role (because they very much want to) when it comes to their children and family activities.
The Dad Index showed that 87%* of fathers had a proactive role when it came to family life such as school drop offs, cooking the family dinners and doing the shopping, yet historically it has been more common for women to work part-time or flexible hours. Research suggests that this may be because women are more likely to have requests granted and there was a negative stigma attached to men needing more flexibility and an expectation that they should be working full-time.
Historically, legislation put in place to protect parents and allow flexibility, has mainly been for mothers and the protection of their rights. In the last 20 years, legislation has been amended to include the rights of fathers and the parental unit as a whole. This includes:
- The introduction of parental leave in 1999;
- The introduction of paternity leave in 2003;
- Fathers and partners having the right to take unpaid time off work to accompany expectant mothers at up to two antenatal appointments as of October 2014; and
- The introduction of shared parental leave in 2015.
The 2021 Parental Fog Index: Cross-Industry Report, considered the information provided on numerous companies’ websites. These results were shocking as it was found that only 37% of companies published their parental policy details. Although this number seems low, this is still a 13% increase on the previous year.
It can be argued that employers who are not open about their policies when it comes to working parents, place those companies who are more transparent at a greater advantage in the job market; meaning that they could lose out on a potentially great employee.
The pandemic has had its own positive effects in respect of the correlation of family and work life, by increasing employer awareness of the importance of transparency when it comes to parental benefits and considering the needs of their working parents.
So, with that in mind, what rights do father’s currently have in place?
Unpaid Parental Leave
Unpaid parental leave is available to both mothers and fathers. Eligible employees (see Unpaid parental leave: Eligibility - GOV.UK ) can take up to 18 week’s unpaid leave for each child or adopted child, up to their 18th birthday. Leave must be taken as whole weeks (unless the employee’s child is disabled) and there is a limit of 4 weeks per year.
Paternity leave is available to new fathers, fathers-to-be or those who will share responsibility with a partner for raising a child. This is providing that they have worked for their employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date and will still be employed by the employer when the child is born.
Eligible employees can take one or two consecutive weeks in the period between the birth and 56 days thereafter and can receive statutory paternity leave at the current rate (currently £156.66) or 90% of average weekly earnings whichever is lower. This is viewed as outdated as mother’s receive 90% of their earnings for the first six weeks of maternity leave.
Unpaid time off for attending antenatal appointments
This was a long overdue right introduced for fathers and eligible partners in 2014 which allows them to accompany their spouse/partner to up to two antenatal appointments with a maximum of 6.5 hours per appointment. This is inclusive of any travel time to and from the appointment and waiting time. Some may say this is not enough and the time off is too short or should be paid.
Shared Parental Leave
It is now possible for parents to share leave in the year following the birth of their child and take shared parental leave in a more flexible way compared to the standard maternity and paternity leave provisions. The total amount that can be shared is up to 50 weeks leave and 37 weeks’ pay. Each parent can take leave in blocks or at the same time and choose to stagger their leave and pay in a way that suits their needs. This positive step has allowed fathers take a more active role in the first year of their child’s life.
Since the pandemic, companies have been more open to allowing parents some flexibility with their work and home life as many employees demonstrated that they could still do their work whilst striking a balance with their parental responsibilities. However, some parents need more than a little bit of flexibility and require part-time hours or working remotely on a permanent basis. More recently this is something fathers and well as mothers require.
To be eligible for flexible working, an employee must have worked for the company for 26 weeks and only one request can be submitted in a 12-month period. Agency workers are unfortunately, not eligible for flexible working.
There are some procedural requirements that must be followed to ensure the request has been handled reasonably (see Flexible working: Applying for flexible working - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
What more can be done?
Employers could choose to enhance paternity leave or shared parental leave to match what is offered to women. They could also pay fathers paid time off to attend antenatal appointments. It is fair to say that many employers do already do this, but should legislation be introduced to make it mandatory?
There has been a perception that father’s needing flexible or part-time hours, means they are less committed to the job. Statistics show that 50% of fathers thought that taking shared parental leave would be perceived negatively by their employer. These viewpoints must change in order to support fathers at work and the government must recognise that times have changed, and new laws are needed to strike a fairer balance.
* Research carried out by website Daddilife
This article was written by Laurie Walker, Employment Paralegal. If you require any advice regarding your parental rights, please get in touch with our team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01246 266867.