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New right for fathers and partners to attend antenatal appointments

Fathers and partners now have the right to take unpaid time off work to accompany expectant mothers to up to 2 antenatal appointments, Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson announced yesterday (2 October 2014).

This is a major step in the government’s measures to encourage involvement of fathers with their children from the earliest possible stages. This new right is part of a wider programme of changes that the government is making to enable dads and partners (including same sex) to be more involved in childcare through shared parental leave.

Research shows that a third of fathers still do not take any time off before the birth of their child. The right to time off to accompany the expectant mother to her antenatal appointments will allow the other parent this opportunity where their employer might not otherwise give permission.

Jo Swinson visited an antenatal clinic at the Royal United Hospital Trust in Bath this week where she met couples attending appointments, saw a scan taking place and toured the delivery suite and neo natal unit with staff.

Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said:

Parenting is a shared endeavour and we want to encourage full involvement from fathers from the start. The right to time off work to attend antenatal appointments will help dads and partners play an important role in the early stages of pregnancy and will kick start a culture change in workplaces and help men feel more confident talking to their employers about taking time off for childcare. Dads have a key role to play in the first weeks and months of a baby’s life and it is right that the arrangements for parental leave should reflect that.

The next step is introducing shared parental leave in April 2015, giving mums and adopters real choice about when they return to work and dads more time to bond with their children. Employers will benefit from lower staff turnover and having a workforce that is more flexible and motivated.

Shared parental leave and pay comes into effect for babies due on or after 5 April 2015, or adoptions where the child is placed on or after 5 April 2015. Under the scheme, working couples will be able to share untaken maternity leave and pay, following the first 2 weeks recovery period that mothers have to take off after birth, so up to 50 weeks leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared. Similar arrangements will be in place for adopters.

This will enable both mothers and fathers to keep a strong link to the workplace, encourage fathers to play a greater role in the early stages of their child’s life and allow employers and employees greater flexibility in reaching agreement on how to best balance work and home needs.

Notes to editors:

  1. From 1 October 2014, an expectant father or the partner (including same sex) of a pregnant woman is entitled to take unpaid time off work to accompany the woman to up to 2 of her antenatal appointments. The time off is capped at 6 and a half hours for each appointment and there is no qualifying period before employees can take up the new rights.
  2. “Partner” includes the spouse or civil partner of the pregnant woman and a person (of either sex) in a long term relationship with her. The right applies whether the child is conceived naturally or through donor insemination. It also extends to those who will become parents through a surrogacy arrangement if they expect to satisfy the conditions for and intend to apply for a Parental Order for the child born through that arrangement.
  3. An employer is not entitled to ask for any evidence of the antenatal appointments, such as an appointment card, as this is the property of the expectant mother attending the appointment.
  4. However, an employer is entitled to ask the employee for a declaration stating the date and time of the appointment, that the employee qualifies for the unpaid time off through his or her relationship with the mother or child, and that the time off is for the purpose of attending an antenatal appointment with the expectant mother that has been made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, nurse or midwife.
  5. The shared parental leave system will give parents more choice and freedom in how they share the care of their child in the first year after birth. For more details go to shared parental leave and pay. Only eligible employees can apply for shared parental leave.
  6. The pattern of shared parental leave must be agreed between the employer and employee, with 8 weeks’ notice. Parents can take leave at the same time, so they can be at home together from the birth if this is arranged.
  7. SPL – how it will work:
    • a mother (or adopter) must be entitled to maternity (or adoption) leave or (if they are not entitled to maternity leave) to statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance and they must curtail, or “cut short” their entitlement so the remainder can be taken as shared parental leave and pay
    • shared parental leave must be taken in weekly blocks. It can be stopped and started, so periods of work can be interspersed with periods of leave for childcare. Each parent notifies their employer of their entitlement and “book” the leave with at least 8 weeks’ notice
    • an employee can book more than 1 period of leave in a single booking notification
    • an employee may submit up to 3 booking notifications and more if the employer agrees
    • where requested as discontinuous blocks in a single notice, the employer may require the employee to take leave in a continuous block, at a date chosen by the employee
    • each parent can use up to 20 SPL “in touch” days to go into work, so could effectively take shared parental leave and work on a part-time basis for a period
    • SPL can be taken at any time in the first year following the child’s birth/placement
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