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Paternity Leave FAQs: Your Rights as a New Parent

Starting a family is a life-changing event, and one that requires a great deal of preparation. When your partner gives birth, or when you adopt a child or have a baby using a surrogate, it is likely that you will want to know your options when it comes to paternity leave.

All expectant fathers, or those in same-sex relationships who are expecting a baby, should find out their options regarding paternity leave ahead of time, giving you peace of mind that plans are in place to help look after your new arrival.

Paternity leave can be difficult to decipher, and many parents are worried that taking time off can impact their standing within their place of employment. Read our FAQs for more information about your legal rights.

What is statutory paternity leave?

Statutory paternity leave is the amount of time you can take off work to support your partner after having a baby. If you are an employee, you are entitled to either one or two weeks of paid paternity leave.

There are a few considerations:

  • You must take your paternity leave as a whole week or consecutive weeks
  • Your paternity leave is in addition to your normal holiday allowance
  • Your leave cannot start before the birth and must end within 56 days of the birth (or due date if the baby is early)
  • Some companies will let their employees take more time off, so you should check your contract to find out more

Most agency and contract workers are not eligible for paternity leave.

Am I eligible to take paternity leave?

In order to quality for statutory paternity leave, you must be:

  • The biological father of the child
  • The child’s adopter or intended parent (if you are using a surrogate)
  • The child’s mother’s husband or partner (including same-sex partners)

Can you split paternity leave?

Unfortunately not - if you want to take paternity leave, you must take it all in one go and it cannot be split.

How do you apply for paternity leave?

You can claim paternity leave through your employer. The notice process may differ for each employer and it will depend on whether the period of paternity leave relates to a birth or surrogacy, or an adoption.

Some employers have a paternity leave policy, so the starting point is to familiarise yourself with that. Legally, as a minimum, you need to make sure that you give notice to your employer of your request for paternity leave at least 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.

This notice must include details of the expected week of childbirth, the length of paternity leave and the date you want your paternity leave to start.

Do you have to work for your company for a specific amount of time to be eligible?

Yes. The general rule is that in order to be eligible, you must have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks before the end of the 14th week before the expected week of childbirth (the due date should be confirmed by the MAT B1 form). If you are adopting, then you must have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks before the end of the week you are notified that you have been matched with a child.

How does paternity leave differ from maternity leave?

Aside from differences in eligibility criteria and leave entitlements, paternity leave offers similar legal conditions and protections to maternity leave. Practically speaking, the main difference is that the period of leave entitlement is much shorter when compared to maternity leave, which is 52 weeks.

Have the laws changed since coronavirus?

The rules on paternity leave have been unaffected by coronavirus - provided you are eligible, your pay and leave entitlements remain the same.

Do you accrue holiday whilst on paternity leave?

Yes, your statutory entitlement (5.6 weeks) and any contractual entitlement to holiday continue to accrue while on paternity leave.

What are men's rights in regards to paternity leave?

Your existing employment rights are protected when it comes to paternity leave. In particular, you are protected from suffering any detrimental treatment or dismissal for taking or seeking to take paternity leave. For example, if you are dismissed for taking paternity leave, then you might have a potential claim for automatically unfair dismissal.

Are you entitled to take time off to attend your child’s birth, even if you do not take paternity leave?

It’s worth talking to your employer in plenty of time about this, as employers may approach this differently. You have to take at least one week as paternity leave, so in these circumstances, you can either request to take the time off as annual leave (noting your employer’s notice requirements) or request unpaid leave. Your employer does have the right to refuse leave or cancel pre-authorised leave in any event, so it’s worth having a discussion early on.

Any tips on returning to work?

It’s important to remember that you are usually entitled to return to work in the same role you had before starting paternity leave. However, if you take paternity leave before or after a period of parental leave of more than four weeks, and your employer isn’t able to allow you to return to your job, they are entitled to give you another suitable job on terms which are the same or better compared to your previous position.

What is shared parental leave?

New parents can use shared parental leave, which allows you to share up to 50 weeks’ parental leave and 37 weeks’ pay with your partner. At your employer’s discretion, you can take the leave in up to three separate blocks instead of taking it in one go - this gives you more flexibility in terms of switching arrangements, should you need to.

Are you eligible for shared parental leave?

In order to qualify for shared parental leave, the mother of the child must give binding notice to end her maternity leave for either of you to be eligible for shared parental leave. You can start your leave while the mother is still on maternity leave, as long as this binding notice has been provided.

The eligibility for shared parental leave is the same as for statutory paternity leave.


If you have any questions on your legal rights as an employee when it comes to your paternity leave rights, our solicitors can help. Call 01484 821 500 or use the Quick Contact Form to the right.