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Proposed changes to paternity leave rules

Posted: 30/01/2024

The draft Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations were presented to Parliament in early January. If approved, they will improve the flexibility around taking statutory paternity leave (and paternity leave for adoption and shared parental leave) in England, Wales and Scotland. However, campaigners have criticised these proposed amendments, suggesting that they still do not go far enough to improve paternity leave in Great Britain, which remains amongst the least generous in Europe.

If approved, the regulations are likely to come into force on 8 March 2024, and will apply to babies with an expected week of birth after 6 April 2024, and adoption placements occurring after the same date.

What are the proposed changes?

Under the current law, eligible employees can take either one or two consecutive weeks of paid paternity leave within the first eight weeks of their child’s life or adoption placement. The paternity leave must be taken in a single block and cannot be split. The proposed amendments will allow fathers and partners the flexibility to split their two weeks into two separate blocks (should they want to), and will extend the period for which a person can take paternity leave to one year after the date of birth or adoption of the child.

There will also be changes to the notice period fathers and partners must give their employers to take paternity leave. In most cases this will now be only four weeks, although for domestic adoptions this will remain as seven days from the date on which the parents receive notice that they will have a child placed with them. If a father or partner wants to vary the dates on which they take their paternity leave, they can do so provided they give 28 days’ notice. It is hoped that these changes will provide flexibility for new and adjusting families.

Do the proposed changes go far enough? 

Many campaigners are disappointed that the statutory length of paternity leave has remained unchanged. Some commentators state that two weeks is insufficient for a father or partner to bond with their child, and that it undervalues the father’s or partner’s involvement in early childcare. Others note that the recovery period for a caesarean section, which the NHS states occurs in one in four pregnancies in the UK, is often about six weeks, so two weeks of paternity leave is clearly insufficient.

Professor Moss, professor of early child provision at University College London, has said that the UK’s family leave policies are ‘implicitly matriarchal, eschewing gender equality for the idea that women should be the main carers of young children.’

Campaigners including Pregnant Then Screwed, the Centre for Progressive Policy, and Women in Data have published a report noting the benefits of increasing paid paternity leave to six weeks. The report has found that this increase would reduce the gender pay gap, boost the economy, and improve the health of both parents. It suggests that fathers and partners should receive 90% of their pay during paternity leave, which it says, in turn, would increase its uptake.

At present, statutory paternity pay is £172.48 per week, or 90% of a person’s weekly earnings (whichever is lower). This is less than half of the National Living Wage for a person over 23 working a 40-hour week. The reality is that many fathers and partners cannot afford to take any paternity leave under the current laws. 

What are employers doing?

Employers are of course able to offer enhanced paternity leave packages. Frequently, this amounts to full pay for the two weeks of paternity leave when an employee has worked with them for a minimum period of time.

Other employers are more generous still. Aviva has become one of the first UK employers to offer an equal parental leave policy. This means that all qualifying new parents in the UK can take 12 months’ parental leave, with six months of that at full basic pay. Meanwhile, both Zurich International UK and Mastercard offer up to 16 weeks’ paid leave for qualifying employees. These policies also apply to those adopting children.

But is there an appetite for enhanced paternity leave?

In a report published in 2022, Aviva said 80% of men in the company had taken at least five months out of work when a new child arrived. Danny Harmer, Aviva’s Chief People Officer, said that equal parental leave is an ‘important part’ of the Aviva culture and that ‘men taking parental leave have a better understanding of the choices female colleagues have to make when balancing parenting with their career which makes them more empathetic colleagues and leaders too. It has also inspired our dads at Aviva to change the way they think about caring responsibilities.’

The research suggests that fathers and partners do want to take paternity leave, but the barriers to that include poor pay and/or a negative attitude from managers and co-workers amongst others. Recently, however, Spotify’s UK managing director took six months of paternity leave and spoke at length about the benefits he experienced. When high profile figures in business lead by example, it is likely more junior colleagues will feel empowered to take paternity leave, and employers will come under more pressure to offer enhanced parental leave arrangements.


If the new regulations are passed, fathers and partners will benefit from new flexibilities when taking paternity leave. Whether the government will go further, in particular in relation to the length and pay of statutory paternity leave, currently seems unlikely. What is clear, however, is that, in an era where equality and diversity are at the forefront in the workplace, and employees are increasingly seeking to find that often elusive ‘work-life balance’, employees will increasingly expect employers to offer enhanced paternity arrangements as part of their overall benefits package.

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