It can be one of the most important times in a man’s life: spending time with a newborn. Having some time away from work is a necessity at such a crucial time.
But paternity leave is often misunderstood. Is it equal to maternity leave? How much time off are dads entitled to? Can it be extended? We like to keep things simple here, so you'll find some straightforward answers below.
What is paternity leave?
You may know this already, but let’s make sure: paternity leave is a form of planned absence from work. It’s taken by a dad when their child is born, so that they can bond with their new one, and take care of them alongside mum. It has to be taken within 56 days of the birth.
Studies have found that paternity leave is good for the health and wellbeing of the mother, as well as building stronger relationships between father and child. It's also good for the relationship between the new parents, too.
Who is eligible for paternity leave?
Firstly, the biological father is eligible for paternity leave. As well as the baby’s father, the partner of the mother (husband or civil partner) would also be eligible.
Paternity leave is also available for parents who are adopting a child, or for the intended parent if having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement.
When it comes to same-sex partners, the one who isn’t giving birth to the child will usually be able to take paternity leave (or a portion of shared parental leave).
How long is paternity leave?
The statutory paternity leave entitlement for new dads In the UK is up to two consecutive weeks, depending on how long they’ve been in their job. To get the full entitlement, you must have been working for the same employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your baby’s due date.
A 'week' is the same as your normal working week. So, if you work Monday - Friday, that's five days. But a part-time employee working Monday - Wednesday only does three days. Therefore, two weeks of paternity leave in their case would be six days.
No matter how many babies you have, the allowance stays the same. So, you wouldn’t get 16 weeks for octuplets, unfortunately! You’re also entitled to time off work to join your partner for two antenatal appointments (up to 6.5 hours each).
The rules are a bit different when adoption is involved – check out our guide to adoption leave and adoption pay for more.
The employment rights of fathers are protected while on paternity leave. This includes your right to pay rises, the accrual of annual leave allowance, and returning to work.
As a father you might also be entitled to Shared Parental Leave (as well as shared parental pay) within the first year after their date of birth. We cover the details in the linked post, but in short, you can share your partner’s allowance. And you can split it up into blocks, too, instead of taking one long period right after the child’s birth.
Is UK paternity leave paid?
Yes, if you meet certain eligibility criteria.
You have to be employed to be eligible (if you’re self-employed, a temp worker, or on a zero-hours contract, see the section below).
Normally you have to have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks, and give them plenty of notice you'll be taking leave (at least 15 weeks).
Statutory Paternity Pay is paid by the government. This, according to Gov.UK, is:
"£172.48 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Tax and National Insurance will be deducted as usual."
If your employer has extra paternity pay as a benefit, that can be added on top. Check your employment contract to see what's available.
(If you’d like to know more about statutory maternity pay and rights around maternity allowance, check out our article on maternity leave entitlements.)
Taking unpaid parental leave
You can also take unpaid parental leave at any time during your kid’s first 18 years of life. It’s a way to take time off so you can participate in your child’s upbringing. You can use it to spend more time with them, take them to see new schools, visit relatives, things like that. It’s not really designed for urgent childcare – you do have to give your employer notice for this one – 21 days’ notice at least.
You’re eligible for this as long as you've been with your employer for at least a year. It has to be taken in blocks of a week, and the amount available is 18 weeks in total through those first 18 years of life.
This sort of leave is available for anyone who has parental responsibility; whether that’s the father of the child, the mother’s husband, a carer, guardian or other family member.
What about paternity leave for the self-employed?
Only people that have employment contracts can receive statutory paternity leave alongside statutory paternity pay. There is currently no equivalent for people who are self-employed.
With that in mind, self-employed dads-to-be should put a plan in place about what time off they can take when their child is born, and how it will affect their income. You should also look into the UK’s child benefits and family benefits to see if you are eligible to claim for assistance.
For agency workers and those on zero hours contracts, they can still be eligible for paternity leave under certain conditions. It’s best to seek advice on Gov.uk or through other legal resources for clarity on this topic.
Can paternity leave be extended?
Yes. There aren't any official rules around extending it past statutory paternity rights, but a case can be made depending on the circumstances.
It could come in the form of an informal conversation. If issues arise after birth that need attention, managers can make an exception and grant some time off, paid or unpaid.
Most employers with a healthy company culture and attitude towards flexible working should be able to make decent arrangements if they care about their employees’ welfare.