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.

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 parents.

Paternity leave is also available for parents who are adopting a child, or having a baby through surrogacy.

How long is paternity leave?

The 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 the week your baby is due.

A 'week' is the same as your normal working week. So, if you're Monday - Friday, that's five days, but working Monday - Wednesday is only three. Therefore, two 'weeks' in that 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 to join your partner for two antenatal appointments (up to 6.5 hours each).

The rules are a bit different when adoption is involved - have a look on for the options available. And for LGBT couples, there's some specific advice on Stonewall.

The employment rights of fathers are protected while on paternity leave. This includes your right to pay rises, the accrual of holiday allowance, and returning to work.

You might also be entitled to Shared Parental Leave. We’ll cover the details of that in another post, but in short, you can share your partner’s allowance. You’d take more while they take less. And you can split it up, too - taking blocks of leave between periods of work.

Is UK paternity leave paid?

Yes, under certain conditions.

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:

"£151.97 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Tax and National Insurance need to be deducted."

N.B. It's expected to rise to £156.66 from April 2022)

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.

What about paternity leave for the self-employed?

Only people that have employment contracts can receive Statutory Paternity Pay and the leave that comes with it. 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.

Can paternity leave be extended?  

Yes. There aren't any official rules around extending it, 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 might make exceptions and grant some time off, paid or unpaid. You do also have rights to parental leave as the child grows - up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave per year, as long as you've been with your employer for at least a year. This has to be taken in blocks of a week though, so it's more for dealing with a priority issue, such as a bad illness, rather than last-minute childcare situations.

You might also be interested to read:

Should you take paternity leave? How to make the decision

A comparison of paternity leave around the world

Can you share parental leave?