Fathers are currently entitled to two weeks' statutory paternity leave. The leave cannot begin before the baby is born and must be completed within 56 days of the birth.
This is set to change, however, under provisions contained in the Work and Families Act 2006.
Fathers will be entitled to additional paternity leave of 26 weeks on top of their existing two weeks' leave. Additional leave will have to be taken before the child's first birthday and cannot commence until 20 weeks after the child's birth. The mother must have returned to work before the leave can be taken in order to ensure that any overlap with the mother's statutory maternity pay is avoided.
Under current plans, there will be a minimum period of two weeks extra paternity leave. The Government has indicated that it will have to be taken in a continuous block. In order to be entitled to such leave, a father will have to qualify for ordinary paternity leave. In other words, he must have worked continuously for his employer for 26 weeks ending on the 15th week before the baby is due, and from the 15th week before the baby is due up to the date of birth. He must also have remained in the same employment up to the intended date of taking extra paternity leave.
The Department of Trade and Industry recently issued a consultation paper called Additional Paternity Leave and Pay Administration Consultation, in which it made it clear that its preferred approach to the administration of additional paternity leave and additional paternity pay was for the father and mother to self-certify key personal facts affecting the father's eligibility to his employer. Under the self-certification process, the father would notify his employer of his entitlement, while the mother would confirm that she was entitled to maternity leave and pay, and that she intended to return to work and end her maternity leave.
An employee would have to give a minimum of eight weeks' notice of his intention to take the leave.
It is not proposed that the father's employer carry out any checks with the mother's employer, although HM Revenue & Customs will carry out occasional random checks to detect and prevent fraud. Consultation on the implementation of the scheme closes on 3 August.
The earliest date that additional paternity leave and pay will be implemented will be for babies due on or after 5 April 2009. Emma Burrows isa partner and head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins solicitors.