A recent survey carried out by a maternity rights charity, “PTS”, of fathers in Great Britain, (link here) revealed that, out of 7,763 fathers surveyed, 99% want better paternity rights at work.

Whilst statistically women are still more likely to take on the lion’s share of childcare responsibilities, the number of stay-at-home fathers has almost doubled since the mid-1990s, with fathers increasingly now wanting to be more actively involved in bringing up their children. This has resulted in more and more working fathers turning their attention to the paternity benefits their employers are offering.

The current position

By law, fathers are currently entitled to:

  • two weeks’ paternity leave, which is paid at the statutory rate of £156.66 a week (or 90% of the father’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower). Whilst some employers offer full pay for this period (or longer), they are not obliged to; 
  • up to 18 weeks’ parental leave for each child up to the child’s 18th birthday. This is unpaid (and it is not common for employers to enhance this).

Contrast this with the position for mothers, who are entitled to 90% of their average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks after the birth of their child, followed by 33 weeks at the statutory rate (set out above).

However, since 2015 mothers have been able to end their maternity leave early, and share the remainder of their maternity leave with the father. This is called shared parental leave. It is paid at the same rate as paternity leave (above) for up to a maximum of 37 weeks.

It was hoped that the introduction of shared parental leave and pay would help encourage working fathers to take more time off after the birth of a child and, in turn, encourage working mothers to come back to work. However, the take up of shared parental leave has been fairly low –various surveys demonstrate that only between 2% and 7% of couples opt to make use of shared parental leave (and my guess would be that uptake is at the lower end of this scale). In fact, according to PTS’s survey referred to above, 25% of the fathers surveyed had not even heard of shared parental leave.

There are numerous possible explanations behind the poor uptake of shared parental leave (beyond ignorance of the scheme itself). One of the key reasons is financial. Whilst mothers often have their maternity pay topped up by their employer, employers are much less likely to top up shared parental pay. Working families will therefore often be worse off if the mother shares her leave with the father than if she alone takes maternity leave. 

But why does this matter?

The PTS survey provides one stark answer to this question: retention. Nearly half of the fathers surveyed by PTS said they have left, or would consider leaving, their job in order to access increased paternity leave and pay entitlements. Furthermore, if fathers are not able to afford taking additional leave to take care of their children, then the brunt of childcare responsibilities will in many cases remain with the mother, which means that women will continue to face the challenge of balancing their career with childcare. This by itself risks perpetuating inequalities in the workplace, with many women having to make a choice between progression and childcare. 

What can employers do about this?

An “easy win” would simply be to raise awareness of shared parental leave, and encourage men at all levels to participate in the scheme. This will require senior-level support and involvement, to combat the risk that younger fathers, in more junior roles, might feel that taking shared parental leave could hold them back at work; the more senior employees who participate in the scheme, the more likely it is that shared parental leave will be normalised.

Employers could also consider enhancing paternity pay and/or shared parental pay for fathers. Of course, a deterrent for many employers will be the additional costs involved in enhanced benefits and not all employers can afford to do this.  

A less costly alternative would be to focus on more flexible/agile working for fathers, allowing different patterns of hours or job-sharing. This may afford fathers the chance to be more involved at home, without putting their careers, or their partner’s careers, on hold. 

Needless to say that, in light of the above survey results, as fathers are placing increased importance on an employer’s willingness to embrace family friendly ways of working, employers who do the bare minimum are at risk of finding themselves less attractive to the ever-growing number of fathers who are looking to better balance work with childcare responsibilities and family life.

If you want to learn more about the role of employers in addressing some of the issues identified in this article, please do listen to the latest episode of our podcast, on gender equality, available here – in this recording, we discuss the role of working fathers as well as other issues linked to equalities, including gender pay gap reporting, how to support employees experiencing menopause symptoms and reproductive rights at work.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at July 2022. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions

Date published

04 July 2022


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