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Important changes to Paternity Leave

Draft regulations have recently been published which will give greater flexibility to employees who are taking paternity leave.

The Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 will come into force on 8 March 2024. The changes will apply to parents of babies whose expected week of birth begins after 6 April 2024 or, in adoption situations, where the expected week of placement is on or after 6 April 2024.

The current law

Currently, eligible employees can take either one week or two consecutive weeks of leave within the first 8 weeks of childbirth, or the date of placement. Employees must inform their employer of their intended leave dates at least 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.

In the context of adoption, employees must inform their employer of their intention to take leave within 1 week after receiving notification of being matched with a child.

The new changes coming into force

The changes are as follows:

• Employees will have the option of splitting their paternity leave into two separate one week blocks if they wish. This is in response to criticisms of the previous system for being too rigid and inflexible.

• Paternity leave will be able to be taken at any time within 52 weeks after birth, (or the date of placement in instances of adoption).

• Employees will be required to give notice at least 28 days before any period of paternity leave they wish to take. Employees will still need to notify their employer that they are entitled to take paternity leave 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth or within 1 week after receiving notification of being matched with a child.

What will the changes mean for employers?

Employers should make themselves and their managers familiar with these more flexible arrangements for paternity leave and be prepared to receive requests for paternity leave with less notice than they are used to.

It will also be a good idea to update your paternity leave policies and procedures in order to ensure they reflect the new regulations. Please contact any member of our Employment Team if we can be of assistance with this.

It will be important to be aware that your employees could potentially be covered by these new rules even where babies are born before 6 April. This is because the new rules are governed by whether the baby is due on or after 6 April, rather than when the baby is actually born - and inevitably some babies will arrive earlier than planned!

At the moment, a significant proportion of employees do not take their full entitlement to paternity leave, with many preferring to use their annual leave entitlement for all or part of their time off instead. This is mainly due to the low level of statutory paternity pay (the current rate is £172.48 per week). The new rules won’t involve any changes to paternity pay, so it will be interesting to see whether or not the increased flexibility offered by the new regime will be enough to encourage a greater take up of paternity leave among employees.

If you would like advice on a situation regarding paternity leave, please contact any member of our Employment Team.

Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.