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Changes to Statutory Paternity Leave

2024 brings a wave of transformative changes to family-friendly rights in UK employment law. In this article, we explore the updates to statutory paternity leave, which reshape how and when this essential time off can be utilised.

We have provided some practical tips to accommodate these new changes below, but they also present a timely opportunity to review your organisations staff policies. Our expert employment law solicitors can efficiently and pragmatically help you assess your current frameworks, identify any gaps or discrepancies, and adapt your existing policies to ensure compliance.

In addition to changes for paternity leave, employers also need to be aware of new rights for carers to unpaid time off, and the introduction of extended redundancy protections for employees on maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave.

Recap: What were the paternity leave and pay rights pre-8 March 2024?

Statutory Paternity Leave (SPL) is a right for employees to take one or two consecutive weeks of leave following the birth or adoption of a child. It’s available in a variety of family contexts, including:

  • In birth cases, for the biological father of a child;
  • In birth cases, for the spouse, civil partner or partner of the child’s mother; and
  • In adoption cases, for the spouse, civil partner or partner of the child’s adopter (which includes the birth of a child to a surrogate mother where the employee (and their partner) expects to obtain a parental order.

Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is a separate right to be paid for up to two weeks of paternity leave. The rate of payment is the lower of 90% of the employee’s normal weekly earnings or the prescribed statutory rate (£184.03 per week from 7 April 2024).

Currently, SPL normally has to be taken within eight weeks of the child’s birth or placement with the adopter. Fathers and partners also have to give notice of SPL and SPP 15 weeks before the expected date of childbirth.

What is changing?

There are three main changes:

  • How paternity leave can be taken. Fathers and partners will have the additional option to take paternity leave and pay in two separate blocks of one week, rather than a single period of leave of either one whole week or two consecutive weeks. The changes give new fathers and partners more flexibility with how they take paternity leave by giving them the choice to take two separate periods of leave, although the overall amount of paternity leave is still two weeks in total.
  • When paternity leave can be taken. Fathers and partners will be able to take paternity leave within 52 weeks of the child’s birth or placement with the adopter, instead of within eight weeks. The changes provide much more flexibility in terms of when paternity leave can be taken.
  • Notice requirements for taking paternity leave. Fathers and partners will only need to give 28 days’ notice of each period of paternity leave and pay, instead of 15 weeks before the expected date of childbirth. They will also be able to change the start date of SPL and SPP on 28 days’ notice. Overall, this shortens the employee’s notice requirement to make it easier for new fathers and partners to spend time with their families on shorter notice.

When are the changes coming into force?

The changes came into force on 8 March 2024 and apply to children whose expected week of childbirth or placement for adoption is on or after 6 April 2024. This means that since 8 March 2024, fathers or partners have been able to give notice of their intention to take a first block of SPL where the expected week of childbirth or placement for adoption is on or after 6 April 2024.

What do these changes mean in practice?

The changes to paternity leave are fairly contained and in practice, should not significantly change how you manage paternity leave requests and periods of time off. Clearly, the main change is the entitlement to take two separate blocks of leave of one week each. However, it’s not yet clear how popular taking separate blocks of paternity leave will be with employees given that the overall SPL entitlement remains two weeks. It is possible employees will still prefer to take a single block of two weeks.

What can we do to accommodate the new rules?

  • Update policies and procedures. You can update your paternity leave policy or employee handbook to reflect the changes in how and when paternity leave can be taken and the shortened notice required. Given the number of changes to family friendly and time-off rights being introduced at the moment, now might be a good opportunity to carry out a general review of all of your family-friendly leave policies.
  • Communicate changes to employees. There’s no legal obligation on you to communicate the changes to paternity leave, but making employees aware of the flexibility being introduced with these changes is a good way to foster employee motivation and morale and show your commitment to supporting employees as they start or build upon their families.

Other upcoming changes to family-friendly rights

In addition to the new rights and protections coming into force in 2024, there are further changes on the horizon, including:

  • Neonatal care leave and pay. From April 2025, employees who become new parents will benefit from a specific statutory right to take paid time off where their child has received or is receiving neonatal care. Currently, employees have to rely on other family-friendly rights where a child is receiving neonatal care, such as statutory maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. Regulations have yet to be finalised, but it’s expected that employees will be able to take at least a week and possibly up to 12 weeks off for neonatal care from day one of their employment. Employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service will be entitled to statutory neonatal leave pay at the rate of 90% of average weekly earnings or the prescribed statutory rate, whichever is lower.
  • Miscarriage leave. There have been regional developments to try to address the lack of protection afforded to employees who suffer a miscarriage. Currently, there is no specific entitlement to leave or pay for employees who suffer a miscarriage in the first 24 weeks of their pregnancy. They usually need to take pregnancy related sick leave, unless their employer provides specific leave and pay as a company policy. The Scottish Government has announced that it will provide three days of paid leave where a family has experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth. Northern Ireland has introduced legislation that will implement paid miscarriage leave from 6 April 2026. Progress has been slow at the UK-wide level, with various Private Members' Bills failing to progress the issue - we will keep you updated on any developments.
  • Fertility treatment. A recent Private Members’ Bill that would require employers to provide employees with time off rights for fertility treatment had its first reading in the UK House of Commons on 11 December 2023. A second reading is set to take place on 7 June 2024. Currently, there is no specific framework to support employees with fertility appointments which is what the Bill intends to address. Similar to the proposals for miscarriage leave, proposals around fertility treatment protections are still at an early stage and we will keep you updated on developments.

To help ensure your business is compliant with the latest employment legislation, we offer a fixed fee HR Compliance Audit, which can be a useful starting point to help identify any missing or out-of-date policies and documents. If you’re planning HR and management training sessions within your business to keep them informed of the latest changes, our employment team can support you with this too.

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