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Parental Leave

Parental leave allows employees to take time off work to look after a child. This leave is normally unpaid and is available for each child up to their 18th birthday.

Parental leave should not be confused with shared parental leave which is an entitlement that allows parents to split maternity or adoption leave between them.

What is parental leave?

Parental leave is time off that employees who are parents can take to spend time with their child up until the child's 18th birthday. It is usually unpaid.  

Employees are entitled to take up to eighteen weeks of parental leave per child.

An employee may wish to take parental leave to:

  • stay with a child who is in hospital
  • spend more time with a child
  • make school/childcare arrangements and to help them settle in.

Pay during parental leave

Parental leave is usually unpaid.

An employer can pay staff taking parental leave if they choose to but there is no obligation on them to do so. If an employer does pay for parental leave this should be clearly set out in the terms and conditions of employment.

All contractual terms and conditions other than remuneration should continue throughout a period of parental leave.

Who can take parental leave?

In order to qualify for parental leave an individual must:

  • be an employee
  • have been employed continuously by their employer for at least twelve months.

If an employee has qualified for parental leave but then changes employment, they must work for their new employer for twelve months before they can take further parental leave.

The employee must also have a child under the age of 18 and:

  • be named on the child's birth certificate
  • be named on the child's adoption certificate
  • have legal parental responsibility for the child.

If the child's parents are separated or the employee does not live with the child, they have the right to parental leave if they keep formal parental responsibility for the child.

When can parental leave be taken?

An employee who qualifies for parental leave can take 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child under the age of 18.

The leave can start once the child is born or adopted, or as soon as the employee has completed twelve months service, whichever is later.

To request parental leave an employee should give at least 21 days' notice to their employer. An employer can ask for this notice to be in writing. If an employee wants to take parental leave straight after the birth or adoption of a child they should give 21 days' notice before the expected week of childbirth or placement.

Parental leave should usually be taken in blocks of a week unless agreed otherwise with the employer. If the child is disabled, parental leave can be taken in days rather than weeks.

Employees can take parental leave at any time up until the child's 18th birthday but cannot take more than four weeks in any one year.

Employer's right to postpone parental leave

If a period of parental leave is going to disrupt the business, the employer has the option of postponing the leave for up to six months after the original requested start date. If an employer is going to postpone the leave they must write to the employee within seven days of receiving their request stating why the leave is being postponed and giving new dates for the leave to be taken.

Parental leave cannot be postponed immediately following a birth or adoption.

If an employer postpones a period of parental leave they must ensure that the requested period of leave is completed before the child's 18th birthday, even if this is less than six months away from the date of the original request.

Unfair treatment for taking parental leave

An employee has the right not to be treated unfavourably or to be dismissed because they are taking, or are seeking to take, parental leave.

If an employee feels they are being treated unfavourably, they should first consider raising the issue informally. Some issues can be resolved quickly through a conversation with a line manager or other appropriate person within the business.

If an informal approach does not work an employee has the option of raising a formal complaint (also known as a grievance). This should be done in writing and can make the employer aware of how strongly the employee feels about the situation, while also giving the employer the opportunity to resolve it.

As a last resort the employee could consider making a complaint to an employment tribunal. There is generally a three-month time limit for bringing a claim to a tribunal. However, this time limit can pause if Early Conciliation is taking place. For more information, go to Employment Tribunals.

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