Paternity leave: Everything you need to know about helping new dads

When welcoming a child into their lives, both women and men are legally allowed time off work to care for their newborn. It’s a critical time for parents to build an early bond with their child.

In fact, studies show that brain development during infancy determines future attachment behaviours, and parent-child bonding at this early stage is a key factor in how the brain evolves.

Yet, despite it being a legal right, fewer than one in three new fathers take paternity leave. Family-friendly policies are intended to allow both parents to take a primary role in caring for a newborn, but for many new mothers and fathers, taking time off of work can prove unaffordable.

In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about paternity leave as an employer and outline how you can help new dads make the most of their entitled time off.

Table of contents

What is Statutory Paternity Leave?

Statutory Paternity Leave is the time that new fathers can take off work to care for their children.

It’s the male equivalent of maternity leave, although the period off work is shorter. Mothers are eligible for up to 52 weeks of leave, whereas fathers are eligible for up to two weeks.

‘Statutory’ refers to the minimum legal requirements an employer must follow.

To qualify for Statutory Paternity Leave, an employee must:

  • Be the child’s biological father, adopter or intended parent
  • Be the child’s mother’s husband or partner
  • Be an employee of the company—agency and contract workers aren’t eligible

They must also have worked for you for at least 26 continuous weeks that must have accumulated by:

  • The end of the 15th week before the week of the baby’s due date; or
  • The end of the week that they’ve been matched with a child for adoption

Paternity leave can be taken for either one or two weeks. In both cases, the time must be taken consecutively.

For example, it’s not possible for a new dad to take a week off at the time of the birth, return to work for a week, then take their remaining week off two weeks later.

A week is classed as the number of days an employee works in a week. So, if an employee only works for you on a Thursday and Friday, that is their week.

It’s worth noting that the aforementioned criteria are the minimums that the government is required to provide. You’re free as the employer to increase the amount of leave you give to fathers as you wish.

At Tide, for instance, we offer employees a new and improved family-friendly policy. We provide four weeks of fully paid leave for new dads and we offer the following for new mums:

  • The first 13 weeks paid at 100% of your normal salary
  • Weeks 14 to 26 (13 weeks) at 50% pay
  • Weeks 27 to 39 (13 weeks) is paid at the current Statutory Maternity Pay rate
  • Weeks 40 to 52 (13 weeks) are unpaid

Interested in joining our team? Head over to our careers page to see the positions we’re hiring for.

The benefits of paternity leave

Paternity leave provides benefits for both dads and their families alike.

According to research published by the OECD, UK fathers who take formal paternity leave are 25% more likely to change nappies and 19% more likely to feed their 8-12 month old babies when they wake up at night.

And this early bond continues beyond infancy. Dads who take 10 or more days off around childbirth are more likely to be involved in childcare-related activities when their child reaches three years old. Kids who formed close bonds with their parents during infancy also go on to perform better in school and have improved cognitive scores and mental health outcomes.

The benefits of childcare extend to new father’s, too. A study by MenCare shows that caring for young children makes men happier and less likely to suffer from mental and physical health problems.

How does all of this benefit you as an employer?

You get a happier, healthier workforce who feel supported by you in this important time in their lives. They’ll return feeling appreciative and ready to work hard.

How paternity leave works

Paternity leave works differently depending on whether a father is taking time off for the birth of a child or for an adoption or surrogacy arrangement.

Paternity leave for births 

Paternity leave cannot start before the baby is born and must end within 56 days of the birth.

Of course, it’s difficult to predict exactly when a baby is due, so employees must inform you no later than the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth that they plan to take paternity leave and communicate exactly when and for how long they’ll be gone.

That makes it easier to put temporary cover in place. Although, this cover should be flexible to account for a baby arriving earlier or later than expected.

Employees must also give 28 days’ notice if they want to change the start date of their leave.

Paternity rights for adoption leave

Adoption leave works in a similar manner to paternity leave. If you’re taking time off to have a child through surrogacy or another arrangement, you may be eligible for statutory adoption leave and statutory adoption pay.

Paternity leave for adoptions can start:

  • On the date of placement (when the child comes home with you)
  • An agreed number of days after the date of placement

For surrogacy arrangements, paternity leave can start:

  • On the day the child is born or the day after (if the employee is working at the time of birth)

In both cases, a father must take leave within 56 days of new parental duties and as an employer, you must give 28 days’ notice to your employee if you wish to change the start date. You may also be required to provide proof of adoption or surrogacy if your employer asks for it.

Finally, while rules can vary depending on company policy, official guidance from GOV.UK states you must inform your employer how much leave you’d like, leave start date and the date of placement (the date your child is placed with you) within 7 days.

What is Shared Parental Leave?

Since 2015, it’s been possible for parents in the UK to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL). This involves eligible new mothers sharing up to 50 weeks of their maternity leave with their partners. Between them, they can also share up to 37 weeks of pay.

With SPL, leave can be taken in up to three separate blocks, rather than consecutively as is the case with Statutory Paternity Leave. But only if you as the employer give the go-ahead.

For employees to be eligible for SPL, mothers must give notice of their intention to end their maternity leave. Leave for the father can then start when the mother is still on maternity leave.

Eligibility criteria for the father are the same as Statutory Paternity Leave, with a couple of important additions.

In the 66 weeks before the baby is due or the week the employee is matched with an adopted child, their partner must have:

  • Been working for at least 26 weeks for the same employer (these don’t have to be consecutive)
  • Earned at least £390 in 13 of the 66 weeks

The employee must also work for you for the entirety of their SPL and earn at least an average of £118 a week before tax throughout the 66 week period.

Taking time off for antenatal appointments

In the run-up to the birth, employees who meet the Statutory Paternity Leave eligibility criteria can take unpaid leave to accompany a pregnant woman to up to two antenatal appointments.

Leave counts as up to 6.5 hours per appointment and can be taken by both permanent and agency employees. However, while permanent employees can apply immediately, the temporary ones must have been working for you for at least 12 consecutive weeks.

Top Tip: Even when you’re on paternity leave, you still build your entitlement to annual leave and paid holidays. While you cannot take annual leave during paternity leave, you may be able to extend it by taking paid holiday immediately after your paternity leave ends. To learn more, read our complete guide to how to calculate and create an annual leave policy💡.

How much Statutory Paternity Pay an employee receives

The rate of Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Shared Parental Pay in the UK equates to the lowest of the following two scenarios:

  • £148.68 a week; or
  • 90% of the employees average weekly earnings

For example, if an employee earns £500 a week, 90% of their average weekly earnings equates to £450. Because £450 is higher than £148.68, the employee would receive the lower scenario of £148.68 for pay.

Conversely, if an employee earns £160 a week on average, 90% of their pay is £144, which is slightly lower than £148.68. Therefore, they would receive the lower number of £144 per week as leave pay.

Tax and National Insurance will need to be deducted by you before any payment is made.

Again, these are the minimum rates put in place by the government that employers are required to abide by. However, you can often reclaim up to 92% of an employees’ Maternal, Paternal, Shared, and Adoption Pay. If eligible for Small Employers’ Relief, you can reclaim up to 103% back. To reclaim payments, include them in your Employer Payment Summary (EPS) that you submit to HMRC

While you can’t pay less than the required amount, you’re free to increase the rate however you like.

For example, Microsoft has a parental leave policy that gives fathers eight weeks of fully paid paternity after birth, with a further 12 weeks of paid leave that can be taken at once or in blocks.

How to help your employees before, during and after paternity leave

Taking time off for parental leave can be stressful both for you as the employer and for your employees. Anytime an employee takes extended time off, it can create an imbalance within the team and overall workflow.

Fortunately, as their employer, you’re in a position to make the process as smooth as possible.

Here are six ways you can support your employees in the run-up to paternity leave, during their time off and in the weeks and months following their return.

1. Educate employees about paternity leave

There’s a ton of fine print regarding the criteria for being eligible to take paternity leave. As an employer, knowing the eligibility precedents will be supremely helpful when discussing paternity leave with your employees. It removes stress and saves time if and when an employee approaches you about taking their leave.

As soon as they inform you that they’re becoming a parent, arrange an informal sit down to run through the criteria including leave options and pay.

In the chat, cover:

  • Paternity leave criteria for births and/or adoption
  • How much leave can be taken and how it should be taken
  • Which forms employees need to complete to claim paternity leave (SC3 or SC4 forms, or company forms for non-statutory policies)
  • Shared Parental Leave and time off for antenatal appointments
  • Statutory pay and how much they’ll receive in total for their time off

2. Put a transition plan in place

To ensure a smooth transition, make sure you have a plan in place to cover your employee’s responsibilities while they’re away on leave.

This might involve:

  • Giving team members time to shadow the expecting father to get up to speed on their workflow
  • Gathering all system login details
  • Contacting any clients or customers your employee interacts with to let them know someone else will be taking charge of the account
  • Letting your employee know what will happen when they return to work

Plan for all circumstances so that you don’t need to contact your employees during their leave. Make sure that everyone involved in covering duties is well informed and confident with their responsibilities.

3. Show new parents support 

Becoming a father is a life-changing event. It’s also a time of personal transition and stress. Showing your support at this time can do wonders for morale and put any doubts surrounding work at ease.

Let your employees know that you understand that this is an intense time in their life and it may affect their performance for a short period. Tell them that you’re open to accommodating whatever changes, within reason, work best to ease their transition back into work in their newfound role as a father.

This could involve granting your employees the privilege to go home for a few hours in the middle of each day to relieve their partner from childcare duties—even a short nap can make a huge difference for new parents.

Open communication like this can boost happiness and foster loyalty; key factors in long-term success.

4. Celebrate with your employees

This is a happy time in your employee’s life. Celebrate with them by sending a gift or card that congratulates them on this monumental moment.

Taking the time to do something like this builds trust. Sending a gift for the child or the family tells your employees that you haven’t forgotten about them and that they’re still a valued part of the team.

5. Offer flexible working hours

While we’re on the subject of gifts, flexible working hours could prove to be the biggest gift of all.

Flexible working is something all parents of children aged 16 or under, or of disabled children under 18, are allowed to request. However, it’s good for you to take the lead.

Returning to work as the parent of a newborn child isn’t easy. Sleepless nights, trips to health visitors, a still-recovering mum and the unpredictable needs of a new child can affect work performance.

Offering some flexibility in their working hours – even for a few months or weeks – can immensely ease a new parent’s stress.

Think about your employees’ roles and responsibilities. Is it possible for them to work from home sometimes? Can their in-office hours be shifted to a more flexible time that works around their family needs?

Work with your employees to come up with a pattern that fits with their new home demands.

6. Review your paternity leave policy

As we mentioned earlier, ‘statutory’ is the minimum parental leave you need to adhere to. But nothing is stopping you from putting a policy in place that’s better suited to your business.

Time off and allotted pay is dependent on your resources, but it’s worth considering how implementing your own policy can benefit employees.

For example, research by the University of Edinburgh found that companies with programs designed to support working parents have higher employee retention and job satisfaction rates. These companies are more appealing to working parents and therefore draw in top talent. 

Attracting and retaining reliable employees can have a positive impact on your bottom line. It can cost as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them, which is why keeping loyal employees happy not only promotes a positive workplace culture but saves you money.

Top Tip: A strong workplace culture helps form the basis of work ethic and behaviour within your business. If employee’s feel supported and appreciated, they will feel more motivated and engaged in their roles. Positive cultures help businesses not only attract, but retain, top-notch employees. Find out more about why business culture matters and how to get it right from the start.

Curious about what other companies are offering for parental leave? Here are some real-life examples of what some of the world’s biggest companies offer:

  • Spotify provides dads with six months of parental leave, which can be taken over a period of three years.
  • Etsy offers all employees 26 weeks of fully paid leave to be taken in the first year of their child’s life. They also offer assistance programs for parents of children with special needs and unlimited sick leave for employees to use to care for children.
  • Johnson & Johnson give dads a minimum of eight weeks’ paid parental leave.
  • Twitter guarantees parents up to 20 weeks of paternity leave, fully paid.

While new and small businesses may not be able to grant such advantageous benefits, these companies can act as a great source of inspiration for the future.

For employees: How to claim paternity leave

As an employee, paternity leave and pay are claimed through your employer. How you do this depends on whether you’re taking leave for the birth of a child or adopting.

Claiming paternity leave for births

To ensure you get the leave you need and the correct pay, at least 15 weeks before the due date, you must tell your employer:

  • The due date
  • When you want the leave to start (the day of the birth or after)
  • Whether you want one or two weeks’ leave

Leave can be claimed in writing by completing an SC3 form. You don’t need to give proof of birth.

Claiming paternity leave for adoption

To claim leave for adoption or birth through surrogacy, you need to complete an SC4 form (or an SC5 form for overseas adoption) within seven days of your partner being matched with a child and at least 28 days before you want your pay to start.

For pay, you must also provide proof of adoption within 28 days. Proof can be in the form of a letter from the adoption agency or a matching certificate.

Wrapping up

Paternity leave is something that makes a real difference to the lives of new fathers, their partners and their children. 

Whether you’re following the statutory requirements or implementing your own policy, use this post to help educate your employees on their eligibility and pay. And take inspiration from the tips we’ve laid out to help dads enjoy being a working parent – before and after their child comes home.

Photo by Jonnelle Yankovich, published on Unsplash

Our Business Analyst, Dinal, with his little one, Cassius

Darren Bates-Hirst

Darren Bates-Hirst

VP People & Culture

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