Employee Guide to Parental Leave

13 March 2018

As the parent of a child in England or Wales, you may be eligible to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave to care for your child or look after their welfare. This leave can be taken any time from the birth or adoption of the child up until their 18th birthday.

Parental leave can be taken in addition to any paid maternity leave, paternity leave or shared parental leave that you are entitled to.

What is Parental Leave?

Parental leave is unpaid time that a parent can take off work to look after their child’s welfare. This could include time off to look at new schools, to settle the child into childcare, visit grandparents or other family members or simply to spend time with the child.

Parental leave applies to employed parents of biological and adopted children. The employee needs to be named on the child’s birth adoption certificate, or be legally recognised as having Parental Responsibility in another way. Parents who are self-employed or are classed as a ‘worker’ (such as an agency worker) may not be eligible for parental leave.

Employers can choose to extend parental leave to groups that are not eligible if they wish. This should be outlined in an employee’s staff handbook.

For the duration of the parental leave, the parent’s employment rights will be protected, meaning that their terms of employment cannot be changed as a result of their parental leave.

The parental leave allowance will not be renewed if the parent changes jobs, as the allowance applies to each child, not to each job that the parent has held.

When Can I Take Parental Leave?

In order to be eligible to take parental leave, an employee needs to have been in continuous employment with the same employer for at least 1 year.

Employees are entitled to take 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child that they have, up until the child’s 18th birthday. Parental leave must be taken as whole weeks, not the occasional day here and there (unless this has been otherwise agreed by the employer). In any one year, up to 4 weeks of unpaid parental leave can be taken per child.

You must give 21 days’ notice to your employer before the parental leave starts, confirming the start and end dates of your leave. If you are adopting a child or if you or your partner is due to give birth then the notice should be given 21 days before the expected birth or adoption week. If this notice cannot be given (for example, if the baby is premature or is placed for adoption with less than 21 days’ notice) then notice should be given to your employer as soon as possible.

Your employer may ask to see proof of your parental responsibility (such as a birth or adoption certificate), providing that this request is reasonable.

Can My Employer Refuse Parental Leave?

If you are eligible for parental leave, then your employer cannot refuse this. However, your employer can postpone parental leave in certain circumstances, such as if it would cause serious disruption to the business. If they do this, they must explain the reason in writing within 7 days of the request and they must suggest a new start date for the parental leave, which needs to be within 6 months of the start date originally requested.

An employer cannot postpone parental leave if:

  • They don’t have a significant reason for doing so
  • The leave is being taken by a father or partner straight after the child’s birth or adoption

In addition, an employer cannot delay the requested parental leave if this will mean that the employee becomes no longer eligible to take it. For example, an employer would not be able to delay the leave if the new start date would then fall after the child’s 18th birthday, as the parent would then be no longer eligible to take parental leave.

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