Roy Magara is an employment lawyer and recent father. Here he shares his perspective on paternity rights, and where it could start to change.
Becoming a lawyer
I’ve always been a planner. The kind of planner who would put Doctor Strange’s 14 million alternative outcomes to shame (Avengers: Infinity War reference!). Being mentally wired this way has meant that I have always been motivated to use my time throughout school and in my twenties; whether motivated by my faith, family, friends, or future aspirations, as an opportunity to have a solid foundation for adult life.
It wasn’t always going to be employment law for me. That decision came much later on into my early career experience. With the vast options of law to pick from, the fact that I can have an impact in people’s lives in a context for which we generally spend most of our waking day resonates with me greatly. Most of us do not have the luxury of working for purely recreational reasons. Most of us work to live. Dare I say some of us live to work (!). Ideally, we want to be somewhere where we are treated fairly, where we can grow, and in an environment we can find fulfilment.
Becoming a father
Being an employment lawyer means that there are some things that will be second-nature to me. One of these things is parental employment rights (e.g. maternity & paternity rights). In the context of paternity rights, at its most basic level, I am aware that a father can be eligible for:
- 1 or 2 weeks’ paternity leave
- Paternity pay
- Shared parental leave and pay
If I’m being honest, until I knew I was about to have the miraculous joy of becoming a father, the above sounded reasonable. Nothing to question. Frankly, these were just facts and figures to me.
However, in the cusp of humility, experience taught me the reality of how feasible these facts and figures really are. There isn’t the time or word count to fully delve into this in this article, but I will share some salient thoughts solely from the father’s point of view on paternity leave and pay.
2 weeks paternity leave
Up to 2 weeks paternity leave is in the grand scheme of things, not a very long amount of time. I have come to realise that those first few weeks (and indeed months) following childbirth are so delicate and pivotal.
While a lot of birth experiences are without any extraordinary happenstances, there are times where the mother may be unwell. Suffering from post-natal depression or taking longer than usual to recovery from labour for instace. Having reached out to fellow professional fathers, I remember one who told me that it was a very stressful period of time financially and emotionally when his wife was diagnosed with post-natal depression. He had to make the difficult choice to leave home every day. With no family or available trusted friends close by, taking unpaid leave was simply not an option.
Unless a company has enhanced paternity pay provisions (which, to my knowledge, most do not), most of us would fall to paternity pay which is currently £148.68 per week, or 90% of one’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). This is in the most part not practical. So it is no surprise why many fathers choose to use their annual leave instead of taking paternity leave.
In situations where the mother is usually not working or on statutory maternity pay (which, depending on eligibility is the same figure), paternity pay is simply not an option when mortgages or rent, bills, life expenses and everything else needs to be paid for.
Will paternity leave change soon?
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Even as an optimist by nature, looking at the rest of the world’s attitude to this subject, I would state that it is unlikely if the government keeps its current tip-toeing around the subject. The USA, by way of example, doesn’t even have a federal paternity (or maternity) policy. However, there are some initiatives that give us the impression that progress could be made.
Most recently, the previous UK prime Minister, Theresa May launched a consultation in July 2019 calling for views on changes to parental leave entitlements to ensure they better reflect the modern day lifestyle. Do we know where we can provide our thoughts? Has there been much publicity around this particular subject? I think we all know the answer to that.
Don’t misunderstand me. I understand that wider factors that need to be considered from an economical point of view.
There needs to be a balance struck whereby employers can have some stability in their workforce along with the fact that the money to fund higher paternity pay has got to come from somewhere.
To help with this, I think that corporate change is what will make the biggest difference; primarily because we cannot expect to put all the weight on the Government’s shoulders. Recently, Deloitte stated that the firm’s non-birthing parents would be receiving four week’s full pay. This is a great step in the right direction.
I appreciate that stories like this show that those in more financially well-off companies will enjoy such benefits. But I think that if such corporate news is shared nationally, other companies will (hopefully) feel pressure (or rather, be motivated) to change for the better.
The modern man, unlike the stereotype of a few generations ago, desires an active input in the home. This brings with it the stark financial implications that, even with shared parental leave in mind, current paternity rights carry.
There are a number of great proponents for paternity rights who look to raise the profile for paternity leave and pay. Organisations such as DaddiLife offer great schools of thought and ideas on how we can generally be better fathers; better role models; better advocates for sustainable options around fatherhood and employment.
I believe that if we keep on speaking up about this issue, a change for the better will come.