WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

I have worked in the same organisation for 10 years. My partner has just had a baby and I would like to take 'paternity' leave. What is my legal position as a woman?

The TV and newspapers recently have been full of stories about the change in the law giving same-sex couples equal rights with their married heterosexual counterparts. It is claimed that registered civil partnerships, to be introduced in 2010, would recognise the "inherent value" of same-sex relationships and lessen the number of family breakdowns and homophobic attacks.

But every newspaper picked up on the significant developments in respect of family-friendly provisions introduced by the Employment Act 2002. The Government has delivered on its promises of introducing legislation that promotes greater work-life balance. These include extending and increasing maternity leave and pay, and introducing the new rights of paternity and adoption leave and pay. The finalised regulations have now been produced and the new provisions took effect from 6 April this year. From this date employees will have a statutory right to take paternity leave on the birth of a child.

The important bit for you is that this right will not be limited to the biological father of the child. An employee is eligible for paternity leave if he has, or expects to have, responsibility for his child's upbringing, is the biological father of his baby and/or the mother's husband or partner, or has worked continuously for an employer for 26 weeks leading into the 15th week before the baby is due.

I know the above definitions are a bit grey and neither include nor exclude women. But having checked my facts with a legal expert, I can safely say that you are entitled to the same rights as any male.

Unlike maternity leave, the period of leave is for a maximum of two weeks, which can be taken as either one week or two consecutive weeks.

It can't be taken as odd days, or as two separate weeks. Employees can take only one period of leave even if more than one baby is born as a result of the pregnancy.

Paternity leave must also be taken either within 56 days of the actual date of birth of the child, or, if the child is born earlier than expected, between the birth and 56 days from the first day of the expected week of confinement.

I am sure your employer will be happy to assist you - and they are obliged to tell you your legal rights. I would also contact organisations such as Parents at Work, which should have more information about it.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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