Fathers will be entitled to up to ten months of paid paternity leave under new plans unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.
Parents will be able to share between them the majority of the existing 12 months of maternity leave in an initiative described as a ‘complet nightmare’ by business leaders.
The present situation allows women to take six weeks of maternity leave on 90% pay, followed by 33 weeks on a statutory maternity payment of £125 a week.
In contrast, men are given just two weeks of paternity leave on statutory pay.
Andrew Cave, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: 'This is the wrong measure at the wrong time.
'The Government says it wants businesses to take on more staff but this sort of thing just throws up more obstacles. Maternity leave is already the most complex aspect of employment law for many businesses and this risks making it a complete nightmare.
'Businesses will have to co-ordinate with other employers to work out whether parents have used up their allowance - it is a complete minefield.'
Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that the proposals may make employers reluctant to take on more staff.
'This may be politically popular but it is going to cause great difficulties for many small and medium sized businesses,' he said. 'You have to question how this squares with all the business-friendly rhetoric coming out of the Government.
'If parents are able to take leave in chunks of a few weeks here, a few weeks there it is going to make it virtually impossible for small businesses to plan.'
Meanwhile the father-of-three Clegg has claimed that denying men the opportunity to stay at home and look after the kids while mothers go back to work would be ‘madness’.