Earlier this year, we blogged on a report by the Women and Equalities Committee, which called for reform and new measures on paternity leave and pay, shared parental leave and the right to flexible working.

The Government has now published its response. Whilst it acknowledges that ‘there is much more to be done’ in this area, it appears to reject the majority of the recommendations that were made by the Committee.

The following topics were addressed:

Paternity leave and pay

At present, fathers have to be continuously employed for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth in order to qualify for paid paternity leave. In contrast, maternity leave is a day-one right for expectant mothers, who will generally be entitled to either statutory maternity pay (if they have been employed for a qualifying period), or a maternity allowance (e.g. if they have an insufficient length of service or are self-employed).

The Government appears to reject the Committee’s recommendation that fathers should be provided with two weeks’ paid paternity leave as a day-one right. In their response, the Government justifies this difference in treatment by stressing that the underlying purpose of maternity leave is to enable women to recover from childbirth.

The Government said it would seek more views on paternity leave and pay in a forthcoming Maternity and Paternity Rights Survey.

Shared parental leave

Since 2015, if a mother ends her maternity leave early (any time after the 2 week compulsory maternity leave period), then the mother and father can share whatever leave remains (i.e. up to 50 weeks). It is currently paid at £145.18 or 90% of weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for a maximum of 37 weeks. The take-up of shared parental leave has been low, at less than 10% of eligible fathers.

The Committee recommended replacing shared parental leave with an alternative policy of 12 weeks’ paternal leave. This would be a free-standing entitlement, which would not impact on the mother’s maternity leave. It was recommended that this be paid at 90% of the father’s salary for the first 4 weeks, and at statutory rates for the 8 weeks thereafter.

In their response, the Government has said that it remains committed to shared parental leave, which has had ‘little time to bed in’. The Government has stated that it will be commissioning surveys with a view to evaluating the current system of shared parental leave.

Antenatal appointments

Since October 2014, employee fathers have had a day-one right to take unpaid time off work to attend antenatal appointments.

The Committee recommended that the time off should paid.

This was rejected by the Government on the basis that the current policy strikes the balance between allowing fathers time off for antenatal appointments and an employer’s need to balance all the various family and other annual leave requirements in the context of running a business.

Flexible working

Since 2014, all employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks have had a legal right to request flexible working. The Committee recommended bringing forward legislation to ensure that all new jobs are available for flexible working.

In its response, the Government stated that it is working to make flexible working a reality for all employees, and said that it had created a task-force to evaluate and consider how to best achieve this aim.

What next?

The response to the Committee’s recommendations suggests that fathers’ rights are not likely to be the subject of significant reform in the near future. The Committee has referred to this as a ‘missed opportunity’ and have stated their commitment to continuing to press for reform.