Michael Archer, partner at solicitor Beale & Company, outlines employment law changes that benefit fathers
Unpaid parental leave was introduced in December 1999. It allowed up to 13 weeks a child, to be taken during the first five years of a child's life (up to 18 years if the child is disabled) subject to a maximum of four weeks a year, and time off to deal with family emergencies. Since 6 April 2003, fathers have a statutory entitlement to paid paternity leave, and statutory adoption leave and pay subject to eligibility requirements.

The new rights are as follows:

  • Statutory paternity leave and statutory paternity pay Fathers can take either one or two consecutive weeks' paid leave. Individual days cannot be taken. This means that fathers no longer have to take precious holiday entitlement when their children are born. Leave must be completed within 56 days of the birth. The weekly rate is currently the lesser of £100 or 90% of average weekly earnings. Although the rights to statutory paternity leave and pay are by no measure equal to the rights of new mothers, there is no longer an excuse for new fathers not to spend more time at home.

  • Statutory adoption leave and statutory adoption pay This can be taken by one qualifying parent from the date of the child's placement or from a fixed date up to 14 days before the expected date of placement. It is paid in the same way as statutory maternity pay: 26 weeks at £100 per week or 90% of the average weekly earnings, whichever is lower; a further 26 weeks can be taken as unpaid leave. A father who does not take statutory adoption leave is entitled to statutory paternity leave and pay as above.

    The father is entitled to the same or a similar job that he had – and, furthermore, he has the right not to suffer detrimental treatment for taking that time off

  • Flexible working Like mothers, fathers of children aged under six (or of disabled children aged under 18) can apply to their employer for one or more of the following: a change in their hours and the times when they are required to work, and to work part of the time from home. Any such application must be "considered seriously" by the employer. Note that any change to the contract of employment to accommodate flexible working will be permanent. As with statutory paternity leave, an application for flexible working must be made for the purposes of caring for a child.

    The above summary sets out the new rights to which a working father is entitled. Do not, of course, forget that the existing statutory rights of "time off for dependents" and "parental leave" may still be used.

    Working fathers who have reservations about taking leave to care for their children should be aware that the above rights come with statutory protection. At the end of any time off, a father is entitled to the same or a similar job as he had before taking the leave and, furthermore, he has the right not to suffer detrimental treatment from his employer for taking that time off.