Parental leave

What is parental leave?

Parental leave is unpaid leave that eligible employees can take to look after their child’s welfare. They can use it to spend more time with their children, to settle children into new childcare arrangements, to look at new schools or to spend more time with family (eg visiting grandparents)

Parental leave is unpaid and is offered to parents:

  • for each child – 18 weeks up to their 5th birthday
  • for each adopted child – 18 weeks up to their 18th birthday, or their 5th birthday (whichever comes soonest)
  • for each disabled child who qualifies for Disability Living Allowance – 18 weeks up to their 18th birthday

Who is eligible to take parental leave?

Employees qualify if all of the following apply:

  • they’ve been in the company for more than a year
  • they’re named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate
  • they have or expect to have parental responsibility
  • they’re not self-employed or an agency worker or contractor
  • they’re not a foster parent (unless they’ve secured parental responsibility through the courts)
  • the child is under 5 (or 18 in special circumstances – see above)

How do employees request parental leave?

Employees must give 21 days’ notice before they want to start a period of parental leave. If they or their partner are having a baby or adopting and they want to take parental leave straight after the birth/adoption then they need to give notice 21 days before the week the baby or child is expected.

Employees must confirm the start and end dates in their notice. Employees don’t have to put this request in writing unless you as an employer ask that they do.  

Can employers delay a request for parental leave?

Leave can’t be postponed if:

  • the employer doesn’t have a ‘significant reason’ - eg it would cause serious disruption to the business
  • it’s being taken by the father or partner immediately after the birth or adoption of a child
  • it means an employee would no longer qualify for parental leave - eg postponing it until after the child’s 5th birthday

If you do want to postpone parental leave, as an employer, you must explain in writing your reasons within seven days of receiving the original request. You must also suggest a new start date (which must be within six months of the requested start date). You cannot change the amount of leave being requested.

A few things to remember

Parental leave applies to each child not a job, so unused parental leave can be carried from one job to the next. And if both parents are eligible, then both can take parental leave for each child.

The maximum number of weeks which can be taken each year is four per child. Unless you as an employer agreed otherwise, leave should be taken in blocks of one week. A week is taken as the length of time employees normally work in a week. So if an employee works three days a week and requests a week's parental leave, that means that they will be entitled to three days off.

Your employees’ employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) are protected during parental leave.

In November 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced reforms that will allow parents to share up to a year’s leave after the birth of a child. The UK Government plans to legislate on this and introduce changes to flexible parental leave in 2015. Under the new system, parents will be able to choose how they share the care of their child… more info