Starting the conversation
Congratulations, you’re going to be a dad! So let’s talk work…
Pregnancy is a time of excitement, expectation...and preparation. In a few short months (and they will seem short!) you’re going to be a dad. But before you are, there are a few practicalities to sort out.
There are car seats to buy and bedrooms to decorate. And then there’s work. The calm before the storm is a time to think about how you want your relationship with work to look after the birth of your child.
- Do you want to work less?
- Do you want your hours to be more flexible?
- What rights do you have?
Even before all that you need to sit down with your partner and discuss how you both see work and family life after the birth of your baby. Take decisions together and be realistic. Most of all recognise that life will not be the same after the birth of a baby, and if you want to play a full part in your child’s life your working week may have to change.
You need to discuss:
- Economically, what are your options?
- Do you want to share parenting responsibilities equally, or is it better for one or other of you to take on more of the parenting, while the other spends more time at work?
- Do you want to take shared parental leave, and how will you divide it?
When to approach your employer?
“Give work as long as possible to prepare for your time off”
When you have made those decisions, you are in a better position to talk to your employer. As a general rule, the earlier you tell your employer about your plans, the better. They may need to take on temporary help for the time you will take for shared parental leave, for instance, or train someone up to do the things you would normally do.
You are also entitled to time off for antenatal appointments (like ultrasound scans).
We will detail your pre-birth rights in the later part of this guide, but suffice to say that the earlier you start discussions with your employer, the easier they are likely to be.
It’s also true that some employers may offer more than the legal minimum when it comes to paternity rights. You probably won’t know exactly how flexible your employer will be until you talk directly to your manager or someone in the Human Resources (HR) department.
Changing your work/life balance
Dads have legal rights (discussed later in this guide). But in terms of work/life balance, not everything you may want is enshrined in law however.
After discussions with your partner you may feel you want to reduce the hours you spend at work, work from home some of the time, or even go part time.
Your rights here are not clear cut. The law states that you have the right to ask for flexible work, which might mean job sharing, working from home, going part time, compressing full time hours into fewer days, or flexitime.
Your employer does not have to grant your request, but should have a good business reason for refusing it. There is more detail on the right to ask for flexible working here.
But again, many employers will look at requests for better work/life balance sympathetically, and some may go beyond what the law demands. Until you start a discussion with your employer, you won’t know how flexible they are prepared to be.
The takeaway here is to start talking to your employer as soon as you can. Many expectant parents start to tell friends and relatives about the pregnancy after the first trimester. This might be a good time to approach your employer, too.
Your rights during pregnancy
It’s fair to say that, during pregnancy, the law is far more concerned with the rights of mothers than fathers. Your partner may need a number of antenatal appointments: you are entitled to accompany her to two of them.
Citizens Advice says you don’t need to be married to have this entitlement - but you do need to be the mother’s partner.
In this, as in all things during the pre-birth period, the best advice is to talk to your employer in plenty of time and inform them of the dates and times you wish to take off.
What kind of leave do you want?
If you have discussed the available options with your partner, you should now have an idea of the kind of leave you want to take after the birth of your baby. The options have greatly increased since the advent of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), but most dads still take statutory paternity leave.
Here are the options:
Statutory Paternity Leave
You are entitled to statutory paternity leave if you have had the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date. You need to be the biological father, or the mother’s partner. You don’t have to be married.
You can use this document to give your employer all the details they need.
Statutory Paternity Pay
The good news is that if you’re entitled to statutory paternity leave, you’re almost certainly entitled to statutory paternity pay. The bad news is that it won’t be a king’s ransom.
You will be paid a flat rate of £145.18 per week or 90% of your average weekly wage, whichever is lower. To ensure you get it you do need to keep working for your employer up to the date of the birth.
Shared Parental Leave
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in 2015 to allow mums and dads to share time off after the birth of a child. In effect, it means mums and dads can share up to 50 weeks’ leave and up to 37 weeks’ pay.
The eligibility guidelines are detailed here, but in summary you are likely to be entitled for SPL if:
How much will you get?
Statutory shared parental pay (ShPP) is the money you get when you take SPL.
If you’re entitled to statutory paternity pay you are likely to be entitled to ShPP. Like statutory paternity pay, ShPP is paid at the rate of £145.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
Paternity Pay Calculator
For more information on the leave and pay you’re entitled to, use the Government’s calculator.
Paternity leave if you’re not employed
Unfortunately agency workers, freelancers, contractors, the self employed and those on zero hours contracts are not entitled to paternity leave. But you may qualify for statutory paternity pay.
If you are paid through PAYE and have tax and National Insurance deducted at source you will be entitled to statutory paternity pay if you meet the qualifying conditions (see above). But remember, statutory paternity pay only lasts for one or two weeks.
Making the right choice for you
The best option for you will naturally depend on the options that are available and your personal preferences and situation.
But other factors may also come into play. For example, many more dads qualify for Shared Parental Leave than actually take it up, often because doing so would lead to financial stress.
Some dads also worry that taking extended periods of leave will harm their careers. All these factors have to be taken into account before deciding what kind of leave is best for you and your new family.
What is clear is that dads are not hurrying back to work for selfish reasons. The Child Poverty Action Group has calculated that, between 2012 and 2019, the cost of raising a child will have risen by 12%, while government support for parents will have grown by just 3%.
In other words, in households where dads earn more than mums the pressure to keep working, and keep climbing the career ladder, can be intense.
The home straight
You’ve read up on your rights, you’ve had conversations, you’ve made plans. In which case, you’ve got the ‘need to dos’ covered. Now all that’s left are the ‘good to dos’.
Making life easier for your boss
If you’ve informed your employer about antenatal visits and the parental leave you want to take, and you’ve done it in a timely manner, you’ve fulfilled your obligations.
But by helping your boss or colleagues with the handover, you’ll build up a stock of goodwill that might come in very handy during the first months and even years of fatherhood, when late starts and early finishes become an inevitable (if hopefully occasional) necessity.
Being organised will also make it easier to take up the reins when you do go back to work. Here are a few things to think about:
What do you do?
What do you do at work? How long is a piece of string? But it’s worth writing down everything you normally have responsibility for so that your employer knows to get everything covered. Take a few weeks over this so you capture everything you do in an average monthly cycle.
Ready for the handover?
Can your colleagues access your essential folders and files? Could your replacement? Remember to share everything somebody else will need to do your job, placing important information in shared files.
Who will do what?
Work with your colleagues and manager to establish who will take over your role. This might simply mean your team pitching in en masse to take on different parts of your workload, but if you deal with important clients (for example) you will need to be represented by someone who has a similar level of experience and expertise.
Arrange meetings with the relevant people to run them through what they need to know.
Wind down? We have to be kidding, right. Well, kind of. But though you have a due date, babies have a habit of ignoring our tightly calculated timetables and turning up just when they want to.
In other words, you might have to rush off unexpectedly. If possible, don’t plan any major announcements, make or break client meetings or new projects for the final month of the third trimester. Or at least make sure there is somebody who can take over in your absence.
“The reality is that for most new parents, biology has no respect for the diary and despite our best efforts to schedule in this arrival, babies will come when they come and quite often their arrival coincides with landing a big project or something major kicking off in work – for mums as well as dads! It’s a timely reminder that as soon as we become parents, we find ourselves dealing with competing priorities from the get go.”
The Parent Mentor – Nicki Seignot
Your pre-birth checklist
took statutory paternity leave
“After discussions with my wife we decided that I would take two weeks’ statutory paternity leave and then go back to the work. We did talk about shared parental leave but I earn quite a bit more than Helen so it made more financial sense for me to work and her to stay at home, at least for the first year.
Having said that, my employer is quite forward thinking and has been very flexible with hours since I went back to work. I now spend one day a week working from home, which means I get to be around my son a lot more than otherwise.
I now tend to leave the office on time too, and not stay late working.”
took shared parental leave
“When we realised that we could share parental leave we jumped at the chance, to be honest. It was the right decision for us both. I got to spend a lot of time getting to know my daughter in the early days and forming a fabulous bond, and Anna got to return to work for a while so she didn’t feel too far out of the loop.
We also took some off together, so the three of us could bond as a family.”