This October will see a change to paternal rights as the Government passes legislation granting expectant fathers up to two periods of unpaid leave for antenatal visits.
The Government has introduced the changes to paternal antenatal rights as part of their scheme to involve both parents from the start of the pregnancy, which forms part of their overall strategy for promoting the family. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has laid out the full details of the new legislation in an Employer Guide, which is available here.
Employees are entitled to two periods of leave, which must be no longer than six and a half hours each. In order to take the leave the employee must be classified as a ‘qualifying partner’ of the expectant mother, meeting that criteria by being identified as either:
The husband, civil partner or partner of the pregnant woman
The father or parent of the pregnant woman’s expected child
An intended parent in a surrogacy situation who meets specified conditions
A qualifying employee will need to submit a declaration form to their employer in order to take the time off, which is in the Employer Guide, and they will have the right to bring a tribunal claim if their employer refuses the leave unreasonably. If the tribunal is successful, the employee will be entitled to compensation worth twice the hourly rate of the hours they would have taken as leave.
The new legislation will also apply to agency staff, including the right to raise a tribunal.
This change to paternal antenatal rights has been criticised as running against the Government’s ongoing strategy to reduce business costs, but the legislation simply marks the intersection between their policies on employment and the family. The Employer Guide states that the aim of the Government is to “encourage involvement of fathers with their children from the earliest possible stages”, whilst making concessions to employers by ensuring that the leave is restricted and unpaid.
It is unlikely that the changes will have a huge impact on business as the cost of raising a tribunal has led to a significant drop in the number of low value claims being made. However it is up to employers to update their policies and communicate these changes to their employees; and it is up to qualifying partners to ensure that they are taking their entitled leave when appropriate.