Parental rights at work

Parental rights at work

Many people will be surprised to learn the depth of parental rights at work. We tend to look at each individual set of rights in isolation but, when you take a step back and look from afar, there are probably a lot more than you think.

Whether looking at maternity leave, paternity leave or even shared parental leave, it is important to know your rights. We will now take a look at an array of different parental rights in the workplace.

What are the specific parental rights at work?

In recent times we have seen updates to various parental rights in the workplace. In a reflection of modern society, those in same-sex relationships now have exactly the same rights as those in opposite-sex relationships. So, whether you’re expecting a child, or you’re a new parent, it is time to make yourself aware of the extra rights now available to you.

While some rights will depend on specific eligibility, you and/or your partner may be entitled to any of the following:-

  • Maternity rights
  • Parental leave/pay
  • Shared parental leave
  • Adoption leave/pay
  • Unpaid time off work for childcare
  • Attending antenatal appointments with your partner

While many employers will go above and beyond their minimum statutory obligations, it is important to be aware of your basic parental rights.

Calculating average pay during furlough

We will take a look at each of these specific rights in more detail, but it is important to be aware how your average wage is calculated during the COVID pandemic. This relates specifically to:-

  • Statutory maternity/paternity pay
  • Adoption pay
  • Shared parental pay

Many people have seen their jobs secured as a consequence of furlough. However, when calculating your average pay, to determine any of the above payments, you should use your pay prior to being furloughed. For some people on relatively low pay, this can be the difference between being ineligible and eligible. Take advice if you are unsure!

Maternity rights

We have covered the issue of maternity rights in more detail elsewhere on the website. However, these are the rights which you may be entitled to while pregnant in the workplace, and on maternity leave:-

Many people automatically assume that maternity leave and maternity pay are considered under the same conditions. This is not the case. Therefore, if you fall pregnant while in employment it is important to take advice about your maternity rights.

Opening lines of communication with your employer, and knowing your rights as well as your obligations, will help to avoid potential misunderstandings and disputes further down the line.

Breastfeeding in the workplace

Interestingly, when breastfeeding in the workplace, or having given birth within 26 weeks, when you return to work you have the same health and safety protection as when you were pregnant at work. Your employer is legally obliged to carry out a risk assessment of your working conditions and make changes to address specific risks. If your employer fails to fulfil this obligation, they may leave themselves open to legal action.

The issue of breastfeeding in the workplace is more accepted today than it ever has been. You actually have the legal right to breastfeed your child in the workplace. In the modern era, many employers will provide a “mother and baby room” or other private facilities. If your employer tries to stop you breastfeeding, this is classed as discrimination.

Paternity pay and paternity leave

Whether you are the father, or the mother’s partner, you are entitled to take up to 2 weeks of paternity leave. Traditionally, this leave is taken on the birth of your baby, although many employers are flexible. You can either take one block of two weeks or two blocks of one week, at different times. It is also important to note that the same paternity rights are available when adopting a child.

There are certain conditions which need to be met in order to be eligible for paternity pay and paternity leave. The conditions are as follows:-

  • You need to have been in employment with the same employer for a minimum of 26 weeks, before the end of the 15th week before your child’s due date. For those adopting, the due date is replaced with the date that you were matched with a child for adoption.
  • Whether the biological father or the partner of the baby’s mother, you have the same potential paternity rights. Note, there is no need to be married or in a formal relationship.
  • You are eligible to paternity rights if you are responsible for the child’s upbringing or wish to take time off to care for the child’s mother.
  • The correct notice protocol must be followed when informing your employer that you wish to take paternity leave.

In the past there has been some confusion with regards to paternity pay/leave for those adopting a child. For clarity:-

  • You would not be eligible for adoption leave if you already had a relationship with the child, such as a stepchild
  • When it comes to adoption leave, one partner can take adoption leave while the other should be eligible for paternity leave

We have tried to set out the eligibility conditions as clearly as possible, but there are still some grey areas. If you have any uncertainty with regards to your specific rights, and those of your partner, it is important to take advice as soon as possible.

Paternity pay

In most cases, if you are entitled to paternity leave you will likely be entitled to paternity pay. However, it is worth checking your scenario. To qualify for paternity pay you must:-

  • Earn an average pay of at least £120 a week
  • Have remained working up to the birth of your child

Paternity pay is exactly the same as maternity pay, currently the lower of £151.97 a week or 90% of your average gross weekly pay.

Paternity leave

Your paternity leave of up to 2 weeks can start:-

  • On the birth of your child
  • On a child’s formal adoption date
  • Any date after the birth/adoption of a child – agreed in advance with your employer

When it comes to paternity leave, you are obliged to take this within 56 days of the birth or adoption of a child. Communication, communication, communication with your employer is vital when arranging paternity leave. Make sure there are no misunderstandings!

How to inform your employer of intended paternity leave

While there are various paternity rights when it comes to childcare, it is also important to recognise your obligations to your employer. Advance notice of paternity leave allows your employer to put in place temporary measures to ensure the smooth running of the business. In a perfect world, you should advise your employer that you wish to take paternity leave a minimum of 15 weeks before the due date.

Alternatively, when adopting a child, you should inform your employer within seven days of confirmation of your adoption.

When giving notice to your employer you need to let them know:-

  • You are eligible for paternity leave and will be spending time supporting the mother/caring for the child
  • The due date, or when adopting, the date when either the child is matched or placed with you
  • The preferred date on which your paternity leave/pay will start
  • Whether you are taking one block of two weeks or two blocks of one week paternity leave

There is a formal HMRC form for both childbirth and adoption, which you can use to relay this information to your employer. It is also important to note that should you change your preferred paternity leave start and/or finish dates, you need to give your employer at least 28 days’ notice.

Regulations regarding shared parental leave and pay

We live in an era where equality is very much reflected in parental rights at work and the workplace. As a consequence, if you or your partner is expecting a baby, or you are in the process of adopting a child, you may be able to split maternity/adoption leave and pay. Effectively, this would be converted into shared parental leave and shared parental pay.

At this moment in time, the maximum parental leave is 50 weeks and maximum parental pay is 37 weeks. There are two specific options:-

  • Share parental leave/pay between both of you on your terms
  • One person takes all of the shared parental leave/pay

As we have mentioned on numerous occasions, there are specific options regarding maternity/parental leave and pay. Whatever your preference, it is important that your employer is involved in your discussions and made aware of your decisions as soon as practically possible.

Conditions for shared parental leave

While the subject of parental rights at work can be complicated, the conditions associated with shared parental leave are fairly straightforward:-

  • Care for the child must be shared with your spouse, civil partner, child’s other parent or your live-in partner
  • When adopting, parental leave can be shared with the joint adopter
  • Prior to the 15th week before the due date, you must have been employed by the same company for at least 26 weeks
  • It is the same situation when waiting for an adoption to be confirmed with a child match
  • You must still be employed by your employer until the week prior to your shared parental leave starting

When it comes to your partner, during the 66 week period before your due date/adoption date, your partner must:-

  • Have at least 26 weeks working history with your employer – this does not need to be continuous and can include self-employment
  • Earn a minimum average of £30 a week in any 13 weeks of the 66 week period

At first glance, these conditions can seem a little complicated. We have tried to break them down into individual parts to see which areas are more applicable to your scenario.

Conditions for shared parental pay

The majority of conditions associated with shared parental pay are similar to those for shared parental leave. However, there are some additional conditions with regards to income and employment status. In order to be eligible for shared parental pay you must:-

  • Have average gross earnings of at least £120 a week in the eight week period prior to the 15th week before the due date/adoption date
  • Have paid national insurance through the PAYE system for at least 26 weeks – you don’t need to have been an employee

The reduced income/duration of employment eligibility for partners looking for shared parental pay are the same as those for shared parental leave.

Conditions for adoption leave and pay

As adoption has become more commonplace in the UK, so we have seen adjustments in the regulations regarding adoption leave and adoption pay. When it comes to adoption leave:-

  • You may be entitled if you have been matched with a child for adoption/had a child placed with you
  • You must be an employee and your employer is allowed to ask for proof of the adoption
  • Adoption leave only relates to official adoptions through an agency, or overseas adoptions with official notification
  • Private adoptions are not eligible for adoption leave or adoption pay
  • For UK based adoptions, there is no minimum duration of employment
  • If it is an overseas adoption, with official notification, you must have at least 26 weeks duration of employment by the end of the week you receive official notification

Either you or your partner is entitled to a maximum 52 weeks adoption leave. The other person may be eligible for either paternity leave or shared parental leave. Same-sex couples have the same adoption leave/pay rights as those in opposite-sex relationships.

Conditions for statutory adoption pay

Your eligibility for statutory adoption pay is based on the same conditions associated with maternity pay. Firstly, you will need to have at least 26 weeks employment history with your current employer, by the end of the week in which you receive official notification of your adoption.

Statutory adoption remuneration is paid for a maximum of 39 weeks, consisting of:-

  • An initial six weeks at 90% of your average gross weekly wage
  • An additional maximum 33 weeks at the lower of 90% of your normal weekly earnings or £151.97 a week

This is the statutory element of adoption pay. You will find that some employers now have additional contractual entitlements written into employment contracts. It is important to be aware of your full parental rights, including adoption rights, before organising your leave.

Informing your employer about your adoption leave

Clear lines of communication with your employer are vital when it comes to the smooth running of adoption leave and adoption pay. When confirming to your employer that you intend to take adoption leave, you must:-

  • Inform them within seven days of your adoption being confirmed (or as soon as possible after this)
  • Inform your employer of your chosen adoption leave start date

Your employer is not allowed to treat you differently as a consequence of adoption leave/adoption pay, as this would be discrimination. It is important to keep your employer in the loop – this ensures that they are able to arrange cover during your time away from work.

Unpaid leave to look after your child

If you have worked for your current employer for a minimum of 12 months, you have a legal right to unpaid time away from work to look after your children. You can:-

  • Take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave prior to your child turning 18
  • Take time off to deal with unexpected issues such as childcare problems

In reality, the majority of employers are relatively flexible when it comes to unpaid leave to look after your child.

Antenatal appointments with your partner

While many people are aware of the rights of pregnant women to attend antenatal appointments, on full pay, your partner may also be allowed to attend. When it comes to your partner:-

  • You do not need to be married
  • They are entitled to attend one or two antenatal classes
  • They are eligible from day one in their employment (agency workers need to have worked for at least 12 weeks)

The same rights also apply for those seeking a parental order for children born as a consequence of a surrogacy arrangement.

Arranging leave for antenatal appointments as a partner

While partners are eligible to attend one or two antenatal appointment, there is no statutory right to paid leave. However, some employers may allow paid leave for partners as part of their employment contract. Additional conditions include:-

  • You are entitled to take up to 6.5 hours for each appointment, although this can be extended by your employer
  • Your employer may request that you sign documentation confirming attendance of an appointment recommended by your partner’s doctor/midwife
  • Your employer cannot ask for evidence of the antenatal appointment as this comes under privacy laws

The majority of employers are very flexible and helpful when it comes to maternity, parental and adoption rights. However, it does no harm to be aware of the specific letter of the law!

Protecting your parental rights at work

Parental rights in the workplace have been tightened numerous times in recent years. It is therefore important that you, your partner and your employer are fully aware of your current rights and obligations. Many people now seek professional advice regarding parental rights at work, to ensure they are following the correct procedures.