Employment Rights for Working Parents

October 1, 20198min

The number of men taking paternity leave dropped to 31 percent in 2019, according to law firm EMW. 

 Despite the introduction of shared parental leave, figures marginally decreased from the 2018 figure of 32 percent. The question is: why are the numbers falling despite increasing legislation in support of working parents?

Debates have been sparked as to the type and receptiveness of employment rights held by working mothers and fathers in organisations. Therefore, this article aims to provide much-needed guidance on the differing employment rights for working parents.

Maternity rights

Simple as it may seem, women have the right to not be dismissed because of pregnancy, maternity leave, or childbirth.

In fact, they are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave legally, with a two-week mandatory period post-birth. This breaks down further to two 26 week periods, where returning after the first 26 weeks ensures you return to the exact job you left.

After this first 26th week, the rules are slightly more lenient. Your employer may not offer you the exact same role after your maternity leave, but it must be a job with the same terms as those you had before. For example, the conditions and salary which you are offered must be on par with those you had before maternity. Therefore, if your employer does not abide by these rules, you are entitled to seek protection from the law. 

Paternity rights

To receive paternity leave, you must fulfil the following criteria:

  • Be the biological father of the baby and have (or expect to have) responsibility for the upbringing of the child; or
  • Including same-sex relationships, be the spouse/partner of the mother (but not the father of the child) the main responsibility (apart from any responsibility of the mother) for the upbringing of the child.

There are a few major differences between maternity and paternity rights. Starting with the length, men can receive one or two consecutive weeks off work. They cannot book this period until at least the due date and men are unable to physically start their leave until the day their baby is born. This, then, requires flexibility from their employer in terms of arranging cover for their leave.

Men also need to have worked with their employer for 26 weeks to be eligible for paternity leave, with the 15th week falling before their baby is due. In a similar manner to maternity, men have the right to return to their own job after leaving and can bring a claim if they feel they are being discriminated against upon returning. 

Shared parental leave

Surprisingly, only six percent of working parents choose to take shared parental leave. This leave is designed to give parents greater flexibility in caring for their new-born children. With the ability to share 37 weeks’ pay and 50 weeks of leave, this right can be used at any point through the baby’s first year.

Shared parental leave involves fathers or partners sharing the mother’s maternity period, whereby women effectively lessen their time off so that their partner can have this leave. During this period a flat pay rate of £148.68 (or 90 percent of average earnings) is offered depending on which is lower. This pay lasts for 37 weeks. 

Flexible working

Having an adapted work pattern to suit changing needs can be highly important for some working parents. Flexible working can take any of the following forms:

  • Part-time: less hours than the norm
  • Homeworking: working from your home
  • Compressed hours: completing the agreed hours over fewer days
  • Flexi-working: ability to change/adapt your hours
  • Term-time (applicable to the education sector): working purely in term time

Flexible working can be requested by employees and must be considered by an employer before an answer is given. Existing legislation gives most employees the legal right to inquire into flexible working. If you feel your employer has unfairly dismissed your request for flexible working, this should be discussed this with your HR department. If unsuccessful, then  consider whether to take this matter further.


If your employer insists upon you working inflexible or long hours, despite your childcare responsibilities, this can be seen as discrimination. Being put at a disadvantage to men through imposed shifts or full-time work can be labelled as indirect sex discrimination and is against your working mothers’ rights. This type of employer’s behaviour is unacceptable, so if you believe you have experienced this type of offence, you can reach out for legal advice on your flexible working case. 

Working fathers can also experience sex discrimination, most commonly through direct cases. If your request for flexible working was declined, where a woman in a similar job was allowed, you can go to a tribunal to claim discrimination against the disadvantage you were placed in. 

In the face of declining paternity leave figures, it is crucial now more than ever for working parents to understand their rights. 

With differing rules for paternity and maternity leave, there are options for mothers to share their maternity leave with their partner to ensure both parents are involved with the post-birth period. There are also several flexible working schemes offered by employers to aid parents in adjusting to childcare. 

However, the road is not always smooth for working parents. After reading these rights, you may feel you have experienced discrimination from your company. If so, you can choose to firstly raise this with your employer or HR team. If the matter cannot be resolved this way, you should swiftly seek legal advice in order to find a solution and receive justice.

Jayne Harrison

Jayne Harrison

Jayne Harrison is Partner and Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP.

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