This unique birth has highlighted the inadequate paternity rights fathers of premature babies have. They have to return to work after just 2 weeks’ leave.  Their babies may be in hospital for long periods of time with many complications.  The current paternity leave laws make no provision for this scenario.

How do new dads cope?

Firstly, the employee should have discussions with their employer. The employee can check whether they have enhanced contractual paternity rights. The employer may also sign the employee off sick so they can support their partner and baby.  The employee could use parental leave but this is usually unpaid and unsuitable.

Current paternity rights 

Statutory paternity leave is limited to one or two weeks’ paid leave. It is taken after the birth and completed within 8 weeks from birth.  The medical definition of a premature baby is at 37 weeks or earlier.  Most are born between eight and three weeks early. Eight weeks is clearly insufficient time. Babies born prematurely are also more likely to have a disability.

Over 60,000 babies are premature in the UK, which is 7% of all births. A number that will affect many new fathers.  Lobby groups are urging the government to do more to support these families by improving paternity rights.

What can employers do?

Employers might consider offering better contractual paternity rights by way of:

  • Additional paid leave
  • Allow employees to take leave beyond the 56 days deadline
  • Allowing temporary flexible working arrangements
  • Varied start/finish time
  • Home working

Alternatively, employers could introduce a compassionate leave provision. Or even paid parental leave for such circumstances.  Ensuring line managers understand the difficulties of this scenario will also help. This would result in better support for employees while balancing the needs of their business.

Employees who keep their employers informed of their situation will find most are supportive. Many problems arise through lack of communication.  At such a difficult time, they might even consider asking a relative to speak for them.

Employees are encouraged to talk openly about the difficulties they face. Both parties can then agree practical ways to cope with paternity issues.

Image courtesy of César Rincon