In the UK fathers are provided with a maximum of two weeks paternity leave. Helena Lopes/Pexels

In a viral video posted on TikTok, an employer faces backlash after attempting to force an employee to return to work during paternity leave. The video quickly garnered significant attention and highlighted the employer's disregard for paternity leave agreements and the well-being of new mothers.

"We can't afford to give you two weeks off," the employer stated, allegedly reneging on a prior agreement for paid leave. "I understand that you've got a new baby, but you've also got a very important job that needs sorting out."

The employer continued dismissively commenting, "The thing is, your wife can look after the baby, can't she? Of course, she can; she's a woman." The employee, shocked by his boss's insensitivity, explained that his wife had undergone a c-section just five days earlier and needed his support at home.

Social Media Backlash

TikTok users quickly criticise the employer for his lack of understanding and empathy. One user, Liz Dotte D'Arcy, commented: "Go to HR! How does he not know what a c-section is?" The employee responded to his boss's remarks: "Are you joking? Are you serious? Mate, she's had a c-section. I need to look after her and be at home for the next two weeks."

Despite the employee's explanation, the employer insisted that he return to work, concluding the conversation with, "Get your ass back in the office."

Paternity Leave in the UK

In the UK, fathers are entitled to one or two weeks of paternity leave, which can be taken together or separately. The same amount of leave applies regardless of the number of children. However, recent studies indicate that the UK lags behind other European countries regarding paternity leave benefits.

A YouGov survey commissioned by the think tank Women in Data, the campaign organisation Pregnant Then Screwed, and the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) revealed that only 18% of British nationals believe paternity leave should last for two weeks or less. Furthermore, 62% of fathers stated that they would take longer leaves if the statutory paternity pay (SPP) rate were increased.

"When fathers and partners take paternity leave, it supports mothers returning to the labour market. This is good for the economy and for gender equality," said Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed. "There's more to paternity leave than the benefits it brings to the economy and gender equality. Research has also found that when dads take long paternity leave, couples are much more likely to stay together, kids do better in the education system, and both parents are mentally and physically healthier. Paternity leave is not a luxury but a necessity."

Legal Protections for Paternity Leave

According to the Law Offices of Dan A. Atkerson, while employers might attempt to justify terminating an employee, there are legal protections in place to prevent companies from firing parents for taking maternity or paternity leave. Megan Bisk, head of the employment law practice at Ropes & Gray, also emphasises that firing employees for taking parental leave is unlawful. However, proving such cases can be challenging since employers do not need to disclose the criteria used for terminations.

"It's jarring because people view it as job-protected leave without understanding that there are limits on the protection," Bisk explained. "Many people view it as a time when they're not in a position to be job searching."

The Broader Implications

The viral TikTok video and the ensuing social media backlash highlight broader issues regarding paternity leave and employer attitudes towards family responsibilities. While the UK provides statutory paternity leave, societal and workplace norms often discourage fathers from taking full advantage of their entitlements. The pressure to return to work prematurely can undermine the recovery of new mothers and the bonding period for fathers and their newborns.

A report by Pregnant Then Screwed underscores the need for policy changes to support longer and better-compensated paternity leave. These changes would not only promote gender equality but also enhance family well-being and economic stability.