Information for dads and partners about starting a family and the workplace

Becoming a parent or growing your family is an important, life-changing event. It can help to be open with your employer from the start and think through what this change could mean for your work.

This guidance is written for partners of the mum, birthing parent or the primary adoptive parent (the partner who has chosen to take adoption leave). 

We use the term ‘partner’ to include:

  • the mum or birthing parent’s partner, spouse or civil partner (including same-sex partners)
  • the biological father of the child
  • the secondary adoptive parent adopting a child or having a child through surrogacy.

Becoming a parent or growing your family is an important, life-changing event. It can help to be open with your employer from the start and think through what this change could mean for your work.

Talking to your employer

It’s a good idea to talk to your line manager about becoming a parent early. Before you talk to them, have a look at your organisation’s parenting policies and your own contract. Many employers offer extra family-related benefits that go beyond the legal requirements. 

Talking to your partner

If you’re just starting out on your journey to having a family, it can seem like a future issue but talking early to your partner about their thoughts about work, leave and career now can really help. Knowing early what kind of childcare you may need can help you both be prepared. 

Most dads and partners now recognise the importance of their role as an equal co-parent and want to be empowered to devote the time necessary for doing this. Shared parental leave, for example, can bring huge family benefits. The evidence shows that toddlers with involved fathers have higher levels of academic readiness and appear to handle the stress and frustrations of schooling better. 

Other options include flexible working or part-time working. Once you’ve discussed things at home, talk to your employer. Your final plan will also depend on what you both think is possible. 

By communicating clearly and honestly, you can work together to find a solution that works for your family while also meeting your employer’s needs. 

Incorporating work and family life

Some sectors and organisations still base their policies on outdated ideas of women’s and men’s roles. But parents play increasingly equal roles in family life and the parental rights introduced in the past 20 years, such as shared parental leave, reflect that. A good employer recognises that happy, fulfilled employees have a good work-life balance and will work hard to help you transition to parenthood, making sure you are supported to care for your family.

Despite this, some partners – particularly men – feel embarrassed to ask their employer about their entitlements, feeling that it might reflect badly on them professionally. If this sounds like you, try not to stop this from letting you make any requests, such as shared parental leave or flexible working. The more people who ask for it, the more normal it will become.

During pregnancy/before adoption

Checking your eligibility to leave and pay

All legal entitlements, such as leave and pay, have eligibility conditions. For example, some paternity entitlements are only available to partners with parental responsibility for their child. This means anyone named on the child’s birth certificate, adoption certificate or the intended parent if you’re having a baby through surrogacy. Others are available to legal guardians and step-parents too.

Eligibility also depends on how long you’ve worked for your employer and, in some cases, how much your partner has worked and earned. Check your company’s policies, your contract and the latest information on the GOV.UK website.

Going to appointments

Going to antenatal or adoption appointments can be a really exciting part of preparing for parenthood. It’s also an important way to support your partner and feel like you’re part of what is happening. Antenatal scans, where you get to see your baby on a screen, is often the point where many partners say that the pregnancy becomes real for them. 

Taking time off to go to scans is also important because if there is anything wrong with the baby, it is often spotted at scans. Having both parents there means you are there to support each other through this time.

Parenting classes are another important appointment to attend with your partner. These happen in the third trimester and some are at the weekend or some are during the week. These classes help prepare you and your partner for labour and the birth, as well as teaching you the basics of how to look after a newborn. They’re a good place to meet other new parents-to-be from your area who can sometimes become a good support system for you once the baby is born and into childhood. 

If you’re the biological father, secondary adopter or a parent through surrogacy, you’re entitled to accompany your partner to 2 pregnancy-related appointments, such as scans, birthing classes or adoption appointments. You’re entitled to take up to 6.5 hours for an appointment, including travel and waiting. Your employer doesn’t have to pay you for this time but many choose to, so it’s worth discussing it with your line manager.

If you need to go to more appointments, talk to your employer about whether you could make up the time through flexible working or by taking annual leave or unpaid leave.

Preparing for the arrival

Only 4% of babies arrive on their due date. This makes it hard for you to plan when to schedule leave. Employers are aware of this. Instead of taking unnecessary leave before the baby is here, your team can go on ‘high alert’ around the due date and all relevant people are made aware that you may have to be with your partner at any point.

When deciding when to take your actual leave, you and your partner might want to think about when your partner will need your support the most. Maybe you will have parents or other family members around just after the birth. Maybe the mum or birthing parent will spend a few days in hospital after the birth so you could start your leave when they come out of the hospital.

What’s certain is that your help will be needed once the baby arrives. Whether you are looking after your baby, doing the housework, cooking meals, looking after siblings or supporting your partner through feeds or sleep, or catching up on sleep yourself, you will both be very busy. 

You may want to consider asking for some flexibility after your 2 weeks, especially if you normally work long hours or are expected to entertain or work in the evenings. The working day is long for a parent on their own with a newborn baby. If your partner has no other support, being at home to help and support will be important for their health and wellbeing, even more so if you have other children or caring responsibilities.

Tips to help you prepare to take leave

  • Talk to your line manager about who could cover if you need to go on leave at short notice.
  • Write a crib sheet and keep project notes up to date so you can do a quick handover.
  • Ask if you can avoid travel around the due date.
  • If you get performance-related pay, ask for an appraisal before you go on leave.
  • Open up discussions with your manager about working patterns when you return. You might want a phased return or flexible working as you may be exhausted in the early days and weeks, and your partner will need as much help at home as possible.
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking leave or be worried that it will affect your career. A lot of people have children and this is a normal transition period that your employer should be able to manage. 

After the baby is born

Once the baby is born or your adopted child arrives, you may be entitled to 1 or more of the following: 

Paternity leave

As an employee, you can take either 1 or 2 weeks’ leave paid at the statutory minimum – though employers often top this up in paternity schemes. You need to let your employer know at least 15 weeks before your baby is due and if you’re not eligible they must tell you within 28 days.

You can increase this time at home with parental leave or, with discussion, by using holidays or other accrued leave. Parental leave is unpaid unless your employer has different policies.

If you’re a same-sex partner, it’s important to know that it’s still called paternity leave. One partner can take paternity leave and the other can take maternity leave or adoption leave. You could also choose to take shared parental leave (see below). 

Adoption leave and pay

If you’re adopting a child, fostering to adopt or having a baby through surrogacy and neither you nor your partner is genetically related to the child, you could be entitled to Statutory Adoption Leave or Statutory Adoption Pay.

You and your partner can decide which of you will be the primary adopter, which is the person who will receive adoption leave and pay. The other partner may then be able to get paternity leave and pay. 

Shared parental leave and pay

There are many reasons why it could make sense for you to share leave with your partner – for example, if they earn more than you, if you want to share the childcare equally or if you want to spend more time off together. 

Shared Parental Leave means that you can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between you. You need to share the pay and leave in the first year after your child is born or placed with your family. How much leave and pay you get depends on how much maternity or adoption leave your partner has taken.

During this leave, you can also use up to 20 paid Shared Parental Leave in Touch (SPLIT) days when you can keep up to date with your work or even work part-time (see below).

You can use SPL to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work or take it all in one go. You can also choose to be off work together or to stagger the leave and pay.

The process of applying for shared parental leave can be complex and there are different eligibility criteria for birth parents and adoptive parents. You can read up-to-date information about shared parental leave on the GOV.UK website. 

Parental leave

As a parent, you can take up to 4 weeks parental leave each year (normally unpaid). You can use this to look after your child if they are ill, or in the school holidays or simply to spend more time with them.

You need to give your employer 21 days’ notice and they can’t refuse. However, they can delay it to a more convenient time, up to 6 months later, unless you want to take it straight after your baby is born.

Read more about the different types of leave and how to apply for them on the GOV.UK website. 

Flexible work

You can ask your employer to consider an application for flexible working at any time. Check your company’s policies for information about how to apply or speak to your line manager. 

  1. Equality and Human Rights Commission. Preparing for fatherhood. A conversation guide for fathers. Page 5. Accessed: 10/01/21
  2. Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 2016. Fathers’ Roles in the Care and Development of Their Children: The Role of Pediatricians. Michael Yogman, Craig F. Garfield et al. 138 (1) e20161128. 
  3. Acas. Parental leave. Accessed: 10/01/21
  4. Acas. Other rights when you and your partner are having a baby or adopting a child. Accessed: 14/06/21
  5. Evidence Based Birth. The Evidence on: Due Dates. Accessed: 10/01/21
  6. GOV.UK. Paternity pay and leave. Accessed: 10/01/21
  7. Acas. Your paternity leave, pay and other rights. Accessed: 14/06/21
  8. GOV.UK. Shared Parental Leave and Pay. Accessed 14/06/21.
Review dates
Reviewed: 14 June 2021
Next review: 14 June 2024