Fathers can take their paternity leave up to 6 months after their child is born, and as such, current figures for paternity benefit claims awarded do not include fathers who will apply and take their leave in the remaining months available to them. Given the flexibility afforded to fathers and the scheme cycle, the Department advise that it will be 18 months from the commencement of the scheme before they will have an accurate figure for the take-up of paternity benefit in a full calendar year. It is however expected that the up take will increase over time.

There are a number of factors that determine the take up of the new scheme, including whether the father or relevant parent has sufficient PRSI contributions, whether they are self-employed and can afford to take the time off from their business, and for an employee whether or not their employer chooses to top up their wages. Parental choice and financial circumstances may also determine if those eligible to apply actually avail formally of the paternity benefit. Company culture will also play a strong part in determining whether new fathers feel comfortable availing of the time off and claiming the payment. So what can HR do to increase the take up within organisations?

HR encouraging take up

As this is a positive development we recommend that you communicate the benefit widely to employees ensuring that they know how to access information both within the company and externally. Putting in place a paternity policy that clearly sets out the internal application procedures should cover who can avail of the leave, when it can be taken and what is needed to comply with the legislation. Around 50% of claims to date have been submitted online to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and awarded automatically within minutes. Go here for more information on how to apply online.

It’s important that the leave is supported right across the organisation at all levels, this sends a clear signal to employees that it is perfectly acceptable to avail of paternity leave. Creating awareness amongst managers is also essential so that they know who on their team may be eligible to apply for it, answer any questions that may arise and direct employees on where to get more information.

Getting feedback from those who have availed of the leave and their line managers will help to improve the internal HR paternity leave process as well as identifying and removing any barriers that may be preventing take up. Early experiences could also be captured, and with the consent of the employee, shared amongst staff to encourage take up. It’s an opportunity for others to hear how the paternity leave has benefited them and their families.

Earlier this year in the CIPD HR Practices in Ireland Survey. 42% said that their organisations topped up the paternity leave state payment. It’s important for HR to remember that if an employer is going to top up the state payment, any conditions attached to such payment should be in similar terms to that of their employer's maternity leave policy such as a minimum service requirement. This is to safeguard against any allegation of discrimination in how male employees taking the leave are treated. Over time, it is expected that we will see an increase in the number of companies providing enhanced paternity pay, but at the moment, there is an inequity in the way males and females are being treated in terms of the pay benefits they receive for parenting leave.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for HR to review all leave and working time policies and see where there may be scope to eliminate inequity and also increase flexible options for employees to enhance engagement, retention and work life balance.

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