Why is paternity leave uptake falling?

father with baby in nurseryKate Palmer considers why so many men don’t see taking leave as a viable option when their baby is born.

Despite the government’s continued encouragement for working men to consider taking more time off to reflect their family responsibilities, the fall in uptake levels clearly shows that many men don't view the opportunity to take leave as a viable one.

The reasons for not taking leave will be personal to every individual, but it's possible to identify certain themes and trends.

Employers not communicating

One reason may lie with the employer themselves. Small business owners without a dedicated HR resource may simply not be aware of an employee’s entitlement, and may therefore fail to alert an employee to the fact that they may have a right to take time off.

Similarly, the employee themselves may not have sufficient information to hand on their rights, so won’t ask for the time off.

Employment status

Another potential blocker to taking paternity leave falls in its own qualifying criteria, one of which requires the individual to be an employee. Employment status dictates the availability of employment rights to an individual, and those whose working relationship mean that they are not classed, for employment law purposes, as an ‘employee’, do not have as many employment rights as those who are.

Paternity leave is one such right that is exclusive to employees. The rise in self-employed work, particularly highlighted in the increased number of workers in the so-called gig economy, means an increase in the number of men who are not entitled to take paternity leave.

Recent employment tribunal challenges to self-employed status in the gig economy would not appear to offer any leeway in this area; individuals have generally been held to be workers rather than employees, and as a result, aren't entitled to paternity leave.

Length of service

Unlike maternity leave, one of the conditions of taking paternity leave is that the employee has the requisite qualifying service. Those who have been with their employer for fewer than 26 weeks, counted from the 15th week before the baby is due, are not entitled to take paternity leave, and are simply blocked from the statutory system.

An increase in job leavers and new starters would certainly contribute to the number of men who simply do not qualify, and therefore can't take paternity leave.

Financial implications

A more obvious reason for the fall in fathers taking paternity leave is likely to lie in the financial implications for those who do qualify. Employees on paternity leave are, in the absence of any enhanced rates offered by the employer, entitled to receive statutory paternity pay, which is currently set at £145.18 per week of leave.

This may represent a considerable drop in pay for an employee, who may find it too difficult to manage this sharp decrease for a two-week period, especially if their partner is receiving the standard rate of statutory maternity pay, which is paid at the same rate as the paternity equivalent.

Although employers may choose to pay more to employees who are on maternity leave, it appears that not many take this option in reality, instead choosing to offer their female employees on maternity leave enhanced rates of pay. The overall result is that employees may feel that is more economically viable for their situation to avoid paternity leave, meaning it is the mother who usually has full caring responsibilities for the newborn.

Career impact fears

Employees may also worry about the effect that this time away may have on the perceived commitment to their role. The modern workplace can still play host to continued stigmas associated with paternity leave, that ‘men stay in work and do not take time off for childcare’. If an employee is in line for a promotion, for example, they may feel that taking two weeks of work would make them appear less dedicated, and therefore a less favourable choice over someone who hasn’t taken paternity leave.

A fall in the taking of paternity leave does not necessarily mean that fathers are not taking time off when their child is born; there may be other arrangements agreed with their employer to take time off. But what it does highlight is the argument that statutory paternity leave may not be, in its current form, fit for purpose.

About the author

Kate Palmer is associate director at Peninsula.

See also: Gov.uk: Paternity pay and leave