Thursday, January 29, 2009

Can Fathers Have the Same Rights to Time Off as Mothers?

Basic Maternity Leave

The UK is often thought of as good on parental rights, maternity leave rights and pregnancy leave in general. It is true that compared to many other countries around the world, Britain is fairly advanced. However, it lags behind other countries (mostly Scandinavia) in some aspects. The question is should we change?


There are lots of different sides to the argument; should fathers have greater rights in terms of Paternity leave? Pregnancy in heterosexual couples is as much a joint matter as it is in homosexual couples or single parent families, but includes a slightly different problem. One of the huge questions involved is “Who will stay home with the kid(s)?” No matter your personal views on maternity leave rights and different families, sexes and situations, there are some clear differences in maternity law, right or wrong.

In the UK, under current maternity law, mothers get a year’s leave. They are allowed six weeks maternity leave at 90% of pay, 33 weeks at a fixed rate and the remainder unpaid. While a vast amount of legal documentation is necessary to ensure pregnancy leave, the amount is legally prescribed and enshrined in law. There are other allowances and benefits to allow for problems with informing employers in a timely manner, how long you have worked for the employer and more. But on the whole, as long as you follow maternity laws to the letter, you will get the Maternity leave owed.


Fathers are also allowed pregnancy leave, sometimes unknown to the fathers involved. Pregnancy leave for fathers is set in the UK at two weeks. This is at the same fixed rate as mothers – £117.18 a week currently, or 90% of your average weekly earnings if less than this. Similar amounts of legal documentation are necessary to apply for both types of leave, but, again, both are guaranteed under UK parental regulations. However, it is one of the main differences in the benefits that affect new and repeat parents the most.

Mothers are entitled to much more unpaid leave than fathers under UK maternity law. This is the time that the parent is entitled to as leave while the employer must keep them in employment. This means that if they take more leave (not holiday or for other reasons) fathers are effectively AWOL, and can be fired. However, there are fairly obvious reasons for this difference in length of maternity/paternity leave. Maternity leave is an absolute necessity for the physical and mental health and wellbeing of both mother and baby, but arguably not for fathers.

There are arguments on both sides of the divide in terms of more or less paid and unpaid leave for fathers. Despite your views either way, what is clear is that it often makes much greater sense for a mother to stay at home while the father continues to work, purely from an economic point of view. The question of whether fathers can have the same rights of mothers is therefore slightly mute. They can physically choose to be the parent who cares for the child, but pregnancy leave is often better overall when it is taken as maternity leave rather than paternity leave for reasons of income and job security.

About the Author

Iain Mackintosh is the managing director of Simply-Docs. The firm provides over 1100 legal document templates covering all aspects of business from maternity leave rights to workplace health and safety laws.

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