Should fathers take their paternity leave entitlement?


As a father of two boys I can confidently say that there is no greater time in life than those first few days you bring your pride and joy home from the hospital. Waking up early, holding them and watching their every move are memories that every new parent should feel entitled to enjoy. This need to bond with a newborn child is precisely the reason that we have a law here in the UK that entitles fathers to take 2 weeks paternity leave to enjoy this most special time.

However, a new report by the Institute of Leaders & Management has found that 25% of fathers took no paternity leave at all. Why? The report firstly blamed worries about the financial cost of taking paternity leave but more strikingly it also blamed “ingrained” attitudes towards paternity leave that are still present with many employers and within many institutions.

When reading this story it actually brought to mind a real life example which shows quite clearly why some men feel discouraged from taking, or even scared to take, the paternity leave they are entitled to.

A family member’s most special time

Just over 2 years ago now some extended family members of mine were enjoying a most special time, the birth of their twin girls was underway. To give you a little background as to the situation, the times leading up to the birth hadn’t been the most financially stable. The husband of the family in question – let’s call him John – was a skilled tradesman but, due to the recession, there hadn’t been as much work available and things had been a bit up and down as a result. Due to the situation, all the tradesman that were working for John’s employer had been forced to sign what was effectively a zero hour contract with the firm, meaning that when work was available they could get paid for that work but beyond that there wasn’t any real responsibility on the employers part to provide work and there wasn’t any holiday pay available, etc.

When it came to the birth of his twins there was actually plenty of work on at the firm. As he didn’t want to miss out on those precious few days though, John decided to take advantage of his two weeks paternity entitlement anyway, even though he wouldn’t get paid for it. All seemed fine, until he phoned his employer a week and a half later to confirm the details of his return date to work and where he should report to, at which point he was told not to bother returning. When he asked what the reason was for his ‘dismissal’ he was told that his attitude to work was wrong and that, rather than taking time off to be with his newborn children, he should instead be taking the work while it was available and showing his loyalty to the company, helping them to complete the current job at hand.

So would you risk taking paternity leave?

I think this short story does give us a little insight as to why only 75% of new fathers are actually taking the paternity leave they are entitled to, especially in the current economy.

For John things were especially precarious because his contract gave him no real security in his position, he just didn’t really expect that taking some time off to bond with his children would be an issue. He had after all served the company well for years and he felt that this loyalty would be returned, it turned out that he was mistaken.

What about those who do have a decent contract of employment, do they face this same tough decision? The figures would suggest that they do. I have no doubt that the “ingrained” attitudes mentioned in ILM report do exist and I think that a lot of new fathers out there are literally afraid to take the leave they are entitled to for fear of repercussion be it short term in the way of redundancy, or long term in the form of reduced career progression because of their lack of ‘loyalty’ or ‘work ethic’.

Do you know someone like John, whose career suffered after taking paternity leave? And do you think negative feelings still exist within some companies towards the concept?

12 Responses to Should fathers take their paternity leave entitlement?

  1. Unfortunately, I think we’re still in a place where society judges fathers for putting family values in front of work values. Sure, everyone claims to put family first, but the actions and judgments of the male population don’t quite support that claim.

    • Adam Buller says:

      Unfortunately, I think you’re right Stefanie. My wife said the same thing yesterday, in some ways the world has moved on in attitude but in others it is still light years away.

  2. This is terrible! In the United States we have no paternity leave law on the books, but even if we did, I can only imagine that the response would be the same. In many developed countries, companies who claim to want employees with healthy work-life balance fail to put their actions behind their words. It is sad and unhealthy for everyone.

    • Adam Buller says:

      I agree, these sort of things can make a big difference to job – or indeed life – satisfaction. It’s such a shame that so many people miss out on this wonderful time.

  3. My employer gives two weeks of paternity leave after the birth of a child. I wish I would have had more. Those first years fly by so fast, and there’s no job more important than being a good parent!

  4. That’s terrible what your family member had to go through!! No one should ever be punished by their employer for putting family first. We don’t have paternity leave here, but Rick always took a week’s vacation from work when the kids were born, and it was so fun for all of us, and a huge help for me.

    • Adam Buller says:

      It was awful Laurie. Imagine being told you were out of a job just after having twins. Fortunately things have turned out alright for him but it did add a lot of stress to what should be an enjoyable, stress free time.

  5. Daisy says:

    Labour laws are different in each country, but it’s absolutely illegal to terminate somebody’s employment here because they took paternity leave. In fact, that’s discrimination based on family status (sorry, I work in HR, haha).

    I would expect that my husband would take his entire entitlement. I think it’s so important that family is put before work, and it’s important for the father to bond with their child. 2 weeks isn’t even enough!

    • Adam Buller says:

      I know Daisy, it’s awful. The problem is – due to the kind of contract he was working on – there was no real commitment for the employer to provide any work. Although my family member had been told that his decision to take paternity was the primary reason for him not being offered further work, proving it would have been difficult and his contract didn’t really offer him much protection. So it does beg the question, should he have foregone his entitlement just to stay in favour with his employer? Or is this kind of employer simply not worth your time if they are unwilling to be reasonable when it comes to big life events? Personally I’d say the latter is true. My family member now runs his own business and can be there for his children whenever he feels the need, within reason of course.

  6. I think that’s terrible. I took 6 weeks of parental leave this year, and while ya, I did get the odd looks, I’m so glad I did. And there still is that fear here in Canada. I don’t know of many fathers that have taken parental leave. But as Daisy pointed, it’s also against the law here to terminate anyone just for taking paternity leave, even for those on contract, provided they worked at least 13 weeks prior the due date. But those first years really do fly fast, and it’s not something you want to miss.

    • Adam Buller says:

      Yep I agree it is flat wrong Anthony. It was more the type of contract he was on though, it was a kind of ‘give up all rights to any benefits or security, including the promise of any work and we’ll just provide what work we can’, so effectively all his employer had to say is that he didn’t have enough work for him anymore. All the workers for the firm had to sign them to avoid redundancy when things were really bad during the recession. The employer did admit on the phone that the paternity was the main reason for his decision but my family member would have struggled to ever prove that, so he just had to move on with his life. 6 weeks sounds great, I would have loved that!

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