Paternity leave

Article reference: UK-IA-EMP41
Last updated: December 2020 | 4 min read

This article provides a basic summary of paternity leave and pay. Since April 2003, expectant fathers have the right to paid paternity leave providing they meet certain conditions.


Some employers have their own paternity leave arrangements. An employer specific scheme cannot reduce the rights of expectant fathers below those that are given by statutory law.

Rights to paternity leave are in addition to normal holiday allowance.

To qualify for paternity pay and leave the person must be an employee. If he is classed as a worker, he will not qualify for leave but may qualify for pay.

An employee has a contract of service or apprenticeship whether express (under an employment contract) or implied. An employee:

  • is under the control of the employer

  • is part of the employer's undertaking

  • is not in business on his own account

In employment, there exists mutuality of obligation between employer and employee

An employee on paternity leave has the same employment rights, including in respect to unfair dismissal and redundancy as employees who are not on leave.

A worker is someone who is not an employee but who has agreed pursuant to a contract (which can be oral or written, express or implied) to perform services for another party and who is not a client or customer of any profession or business carried on by the individual.

A worker has more limited rights than an employee, but many aspects of the law, including rights regarding discrimination, unlawful deduction from wages, Working Time Regulations (including holiday rights), minimum wage, disciplinary and grievance, and prevention of less favourable treatment still apply.

Right to leave

An employee can take statutory paternity leave if he:

  • is the biological father of the child, or is the mother's husband or partner (including a mother's partner in a same-sex relationship)

  • has been employed by the employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the beginning of the week when the baby is due

  • will be fully involved in the child's upbringing and is taking the time off to support the mother or care for the baby

If an employee doesn’t qualify for paternity leave, the employer may be prepared to give some time off, or he could take paid holiday.

To qualify for leave, an employee must tell the employer in writing at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week when the baby is due. He must tell the employer:

  • when the baby is due

  • how much leave he wishes to take

  • when he wants the leave to start

You can change the date that the leave starts, as long as you give 28 days notice.

If you can’t give the full notice period to your employer for a valid reason (e.g. if the baby arrives early), you should still give as much notice as possible. You may still receive leave and pay if you meet the other conditions. If there is no valid reason (e.g. you simply forgot) you will lose your entitlement.

How much paternity leave can be taken?

Employees may take up to a maximum of two weeks leave. Days must be taken consecutively.

An employee can choose to start the leave:

  • on the day the baby is born

  • a number of days or weeks after the baby are born

  • from a specific date after the first day of the week in which the baby’s expected to be born

Leave can start on any day of the week (but not before the baby is born), but has to finish within 56 days of the baby being born or, if the baby’s born before the week it was due, within 56 days of the first day of that week.

If the employee's partner has a multiple birth, the employee is only allowed one period of paternity leave.

Provided he meets all the other conditions, he can still take paternity leave if his child is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Pay and rights

If the employee takes paternity leave, and earns more than lower earnings limit (LEL) for National Insurance contributions, then he will be entitled to statutory paternity pay (SPP). To qualify for SPP he must pay tax and National Insurance.

Income tax and National Insurance is paid in the same way on SPP as on regular wages.

The employee must give the employer 28 days’ notice of the date on which he wants SPP to start.

An employee receives all the normal employment benefits (apart from wages) during paternity leave. That includes the right to return to the same job.

Further information

Many maternity rights are similar to paternity rights. You may be interested to read about these.

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