Parental leave

Mum and childIf you need a day off here or there to deal with an emergency you are probably going to be applying for 'time off for dependants'. You can have a look at our factsheet about that kind of time off. But, if you need more time than that and have young children (or an older disabled child), then it is parental leave you should be thinking about.


  • You are entitled to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a child during the first five years of the child's life. In respect of a disabled child, you may take the leave at any time up to your child's 18th birthday
  • You may take 18 weeks for each child and each parent may take the full amount of leave. So if you have twins, each parent may take a total of 36 weeks of leave to care for them
  • If you adopt, you may take parental leave at any time in the first five years after the child is placed with you, but with a cut-off at your child's 18th birthday

Although there is no legal obligation to pay an employee during parental leave, it's worth asking whether your employer does provide for paid parental leave. Some employers have schemes which are more favourable or just different in some respects from the general provisions set out in this factsheet so do speak to your manager or HR department. 

Who can take parental leave?

To be entitled to parental leave:

  • You must be an employee
  • You must have worked for your employer for at least one year
  • You must have or expect to have parental responsibility for a child or be registered as the father on the child's birth certificate. If you are a biological or adoptive parent, you can expect to qualify. If you are a step parent or guardian, you need to obtain advice as to whether you might qualify.

How much leave can I take?

This corresponds with your actual working pattern. So if you work a two-day week, you can take 18 lots of two days. If you work a variable amount per week, then an average is taken over a year. You must take the leave in full weeks unless you have a disabled child in which case shorter periods are allowed. So if you want to take a day here or there eg to visit a new school, you would probably need to take annual leave.

What about my employment benefits during parental leave?

During your leave, you are entitled to some of the benefits due to you under your contract of employment, in particular, you are entitled to your notice period if your employment is terminated, to the benefit of your employer's grievance and disciplinary procedures and to any contractual redundancy package. You continue to accrue your right to be paid annual leave during your parental leave. You also have obligations to your employer and you are bound by any terms of your contract relating to confidentiality, participating in other businesses, accepting gifts and other benefits, and giving your employer notice if you wish to resign.

The situation in relation to pensions is complicated and will depend on factors such as what kind of pension scheme you are in and whether your employer has made special provisions in relation to parental leave.

You may be entitled to all or part of any bonus which comes due during your period of parental leave if the bonus is a reward for work you did when you were not on parental leave.

What do I have to tell my employer?

You must inform your employer of the dates you will start and finish your leave at least 21 days before you wish to take the leave. Your employer is not allowed to refuse you leave. If your parental leave is due to start on the date when your child is born or (if adopted) placed with you, then your employer has to grant the specific dates you have asked for. However, your employer can postpone your leave for up to six months if you ask for any other dates and your employer considers that you taking your leave at the time you have asked for would be unduly disruptive to the business.

Your employer is also entitled to ask you for proof of your entitlement to parental leave and to refuse you leave if you do not provide the proof.

Parental leave is granted so you can care for your child (which could include settling a child into a new school or spending time with a child in hospital). Your employer can't ask you for evidence that you have been caring for your child whilst off work but, for example, taking leave and then working somewhere else might expose you to disciplinary action if your employer found out.

Do I have the right to return to my existing job?

You have the right to return to work after a period of parental leave. Whether you have the right to come back to the job you left depends on how much leave you took and whether you have also taken other types of leave.

So, if you have taken parental leave of four weeks or fewer, you are entitled to return to your existing job if:

  • The period of leave was an isolated period, or
  • It was the last of two of more consecutive periods of statutory leave which did not include:
    • additional maternity or additional adoption leave, or
    • parental leave of more than four weeks

If you have taken parental leave of more than four weeks or a shorter period of parental leave tacked on to the end of other periods of leave which included additional maternity or additional adoption leave (or another period of parental leave which was more than four weeks), you are entitled to come back to:

  • Your existing job
  • If that is not reasonably practicable, to another job which is both suitable for you and appropriate for you to do in the circumstances

What happens if my employer treats me badly because I have taken parental leave?

If your employer treats you badly or sacks you because you have exercised your right to parental leave, you may be able to bring a complaint in the employment tribunal. You may also be able to bring a complaint if you think that you have not received the contractual benefits you should have received during your period of leave or you are not permitted to return to the same job or your terms and conditions are altered.

You need to take advice promptly in these circumstances because there are strict time limits for bringing a complaint, usually three months from the bad treatment or termination of your employment. 



This content was created for Mumsnet by two barristers specialising in discrimination and parents' rights at work, Natasha Joffe and Lydia Seymour. Please have a look at our disclaimer and bear in mind that the information provided is no substitute for specific advice on your individual case.

Last updated: about 3 years ago