Q: One of my employees is due to go on paternity leave next week, but I am worried about staffing numbers. Can I ask him to defer his leave?
A: Paternity leave is just one example of a number of family friendly initiatives that provide added protection to working parents.
Although staff taking paternity leave may put you at a disadvantage, especially during busy periods, the truth is that you have very little authority to prevent this.
Remember that qualifying employees have the right to take up to two weeks of paternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child.
To be eligible, employees must be sharing responsibility for the care of the child with the child’s mother/adopter and have 26 weeks of continuous service prior to the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth or the week they are notified of a match for adoption.
It will also be important to review your own contracts of employment to determine whether the employee is entitled to any prolonged period of occupational paternity leave. In these instances, you may have a caveat that enables you to defer their entitlement to any additional leave, however this will not impact their right to take the statutory amount.
Employees are required to inform you of their intention to take paternity leave by providing adequate notice. You can expect to receive written confirmation of the expected childbirth/adoption date, when the employee wants the leave to begin and how long they want it to last.
While the chosen date may leave you short-staffed, you cannot refuse a request and deny them their statutory right if they meet the qualifying conditions and have given the appropriate notice. Attempting to do so will leave you in breach of current legislation and open to tribunal proceedings.
Even in situations where the correct notice has not been provided, you are strongly encouraged to allow staff to begin paternity leave on their chosen date and consider how a number of variables can often cause childbirth/adoption to occur earlier than expected.
Having said this, depending on your relationship with the employee, you may want to ask if they would be willing to defer their leave, by presenting them with your concerns over staffing numbers.
When doing so, bear in mind that staff are under no obligation to agree to this request and should not suffer any detriment for refusing to do so.
However, if they do agree, then you should look to set a future date for the leave as soon as possible as the employee will only have 56 days from the birth/adoption to take it.
Ultimately, as it is a statutory right, much of the power around taking paternity leave lies with the employee.
Therefore, rather than trying to persuade the employee to defer their leave, you may be better served working to ensure the correct procedures are in place to handle their work duties whilst they are away.