Paternity Leave Changes 'A Landmark'

Maternity and Paternity Rights

15.09.2009

Changes to maternity and paternity leave announced by the Government today represent a "landmark" for equal rights at work, a leading employment lawyer has said.

New mothers who return to work will have the right to transfer any unused entitlement to maternity leave and statutory maternity pay to their partner up to a maximum of six months. The Government did not however extend statutory maternity pay from 39 to 52 weeks. 

It means that on top of two weeks' paid paternity leave fathers could claim the right to six months off work before their child's first birthday. The rules could be in place as soon as late next year and will apply to adoptions as well as same sex relationships.

Simon Coates, a Partner and head of Employment at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "This is a significant change in the rules governing maternity and paternity leave and should be seen as a landmark by those who have campaigned for equal rights among workers.

"At present fathers can only receive two weeks' paid leave so moving to up to six months is a major shift.

"Together with the implementation of the right to make a flexible working request earlier this year, this proposal aims to make the stereotype of fathers working 9-5 while mothers act as housewives out-dated.

"It should particularly help families where the mother is the major breadwinner and is keen to return to work or families who need more flexibility.

"Of course giving couples greater scope to share work and family responsibilities could have an impact on businesses.

"This will increase the red-tape businesses have to cope with and make even more demands on managers, but the Government has stopped short of extending statutory maternity pay from 39 to 52 weeks.

"The true level of take up is difficult to predict given that not every father takes up the two weeks statutory paternity leave available at present. Nonetheless, businesses should start working now to ensure their administrative systems are able to cope with the planned changes and that their employment policies are up to date once the law changes."