GUEST COMMENT: Tempted by additional paternity leave?

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From this week, new fathers can qualify for additional paternity leave (APL).

Whereas previously they could only take two weeks' ordinary paternity leave, new fathers now have the opportunity to take up to 26 weeks' APL as well.

In a nutshell, the APL scheme allows the mother to transfer some statutory maternity leave and pay to the father, instead of taking it all herself. APL is conditional on the mother returning to work from her maternity leave. There is then a window during which APL can be taken, starting 20 weeks after, and ending 12 months after, the birth.

Paternity pay will be available to fathers on APL, but only for up to 19 weeks. It could be paid for an even shorter amount of time, depending upon how much statutory pay was already allocated to the mother. In total, there are 39 weeks of statutory pay available to both parents - if the mother takes 30, there will only be 9 left for the father.

In any case, the weekly amounts paid out under statutory paternity pay aren't huge. The rate of statutory paternity pay is the same as statutory maternity pay, so only 128.73 per week - unless the employer enhances this amount voluntarily.

Therefore some people are saying that only those in better paid professions, like financial services, will be able to afford APL. But I would question if the immediate take-up from dads working in finance will be great.

The stigma issue

Fathers will worry not only about the immediate drop in their total annual compensation, but also about the possible longer-term impact on their career.

Men who take APL will have the same legal protection against detriment, discrimination and dismissal as women who take maternity leave. But is that going to reassure dads working in finance, when they look at the relatively low numbers of working mothers in most of the better paid and senior finance jobs in the City, as well as the number of women who experience negative career consequences after taking maternity leave?

On the other hand, what I can see happening more quickly is an uptake from couples in which mum earns significantly more than dad. So from now on, in the case of ambitious, high achieving women in finance, with husbands or partners in lower paid professions like teaching, the chance to take a fairly short period of maternity leave and then hand-over the childcare to dad might well be a good option for all the family.