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Statutory paternity leave: new rules from April

15 January 2024

New parents will have more flexibility to choose when to take statutory paternity leave under changes applying from April 2024. Here’s what employers need to know and do.

Under the current rules, new dads and partners can take up to two weeks’ statutory paternity leave on the birth of their child. This is paid at a statutory rate of £172.48 each week. Leave must be taken in the first eight weeks and has to be taken as a single chunk of either one or two weeks. To be eligible for leave and pay, employees need six months’ continuous service. Statutory paternity leave is also available to the second person adopting a child (with the primary adopter being eligible for adoption leave).

The rules around how and when statutory paternity leave can be taken are now being relaxed.

What is changing with paternity leave?

Under the new rules, employees will be able to take statutory paternity leave at any point in the first year (up from the first eight weeks) and will be able to split it up into two separate blocks of one week (rather than having to take two weeks together).

This means that a new parent will be able to take statutory paternity leave in a variety of new ways, for example:

  • one week when the baby is born and a second week after nine months when their partner returns to work; or
  • no leave when the baby is born, but two weeks after 10 months.

The notice requirements are also changing. Currently, employees must give notice of their leave dates 15 weeks before the birth. This is changing so that dads/partners will only have to give 28 days' notice of the leave they intend to take, although notice of entitlement must still be given 15 weeks before birth.

Finally, there is a tougher regime for declaring entitlement. Under the current rules, employers can ask the employee to sign a declaration that they are an eligible parent and that they want the leave for legitimate purposes (to care for the child or support their partner). The new rules say that employees must declare their eligibility and the legitimate purpose of their leave.

What is not changing with paternity leave?

The purpose of the leave must still be for the employee to care for the child or support their partner. This remains likely to be interpreted broadly, but a new dad cannot, for example, take paternity leave to go on holiday without the baby.

Statutory paternity pay will go up slightly in April 2024, to £184.03, in line with the usual practice of uprating statutory payments. There are no plans to significantly improve on this low level of payment. Employers may choose to offer full pay (and many do) but, where employers do not top up pay, parents are generally better off taking holiday instead.

Employers have no right to postpone statutory paternity leave or request that it be taken at a different time. This makes perfect sense for leave taken at the time of birth or adoption, since the employee cannot control those dates and the employer cannot reasonably argue over them. The lack of any employer say over the days will continue, however, when the rules change and the window in which leave can be taken significantly increases. This means that eligible employees will be able to take statutory paternity leave at dates of their choosing at any point in the first year, as of right, even if the dates are inconvenient for the employer. In this one respect, therefore, taking paternity leave differs from booking holiday.

Statutory paternity leave is not available if the employee has already taken shared parental leave. Employees therefore need to have used up paternity leave before taking shared parental leave. This rule is also staying put and may become more significant when the rules change and employees become entitled to take paternity leave during the whole of the first year.

Finally, statutory paternity leave must still be taken in whole weeks.

When do the changes to paternity leave take effect?

The new rules apply to babies expected to be born after 6 April 2024 and to children expected to be placed for adoption on or after 6 April 2024.

What do employers need to do?

Employers may need to update their paternity leave policies, and people managers may need updating on the new rights.

From a practical perspective, once the new rules take effect, employers could experience a small uptick in employees taking statutory paternity leave, especially when employees want to avail themselves of the right to taken their chosen dates without risk of cancellation. The overall impact is, however, likely to be modest given that the overall entitlement remains just two weeks and statutory payment remains low.

Employers should also consider what level of payment they want to make for statutory paternity leave as a matter of policy. Offering full pay is increasingly the norm.

Looking further forward, the Labour Party has indicated that it could scrap the six months’ service currently required to qualify for statutory paternity leave, so further change may lie ahead under a change of government.

The amending regulations (currently in draft) are available here.

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