Parental Leave

Parental leave is designed to give parents more time with their children and is available to mums and dads. The laws around it are complicated, but well worth studying before you make your application, so here’s our guide to what you need to know about getting your full entitlement.

If you need the occasional day off to deal with a family emergency, you’re probably going to be applying for time off for dependants. If you need regular time off, and have young children (or an older disabled child), then you need to apply for parental leave.

According to the government, you’re entitled to take parental leave for any matter which you think will be of benefit to your child’s welfare. These include:

  • Spending more time with your children
  • Choosing a school
  • Settling your children into new childcare arrangements

Who can take parental leave?

To be entitled to parental leave, you must be an employee and 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.

How much parental leave can I take?

You can take up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave.

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.

Today, people’s working lives vary widely, so it’s important to note that the amount of parental leave you can take corresponds with your actual working pattern. This means that, 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 your employer agrees to more flexible arrangements. If you want to take a day here or there, you’re probably better off using your annual leave.

You can normally only take up to four weeks parental leave per year, unless your employer allows more. Each year runs from your child’s birthday.

Will I be paid during parental leave?

Generally, parental leave is unpaid. Employers have no legal obligation to pay an employee during parental leave.

However, it's worth asking whether your employer does offer paid parental leave. Some employers have schemes which are more favourable or just different in some respects from the general provisions set out on this page, so do speak to your manager, HR department or union.

In fact, with all matters relating to parents’ rights at work, communication is key so keep up the dialogue with your employer and make sure you’re clued-up about the specific arrangements within their business.

Employment benefits during parental leave

When you’re on parental leave, you are entitled to many of the benefits due to you under your contract of employment. These include:

  • Your notice period if your employment is terminated
  • The benefit of your employer's grievance and disciplinary procedures
  • 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, especially if the bonus is a reward for work you did when you were not on parental leave.

How do I apply for parental leave?

You must give your employer at least 21 days’ notice of when you would like to start and finish your parental leave.

Unlike other areas concerning work and childcare, such as flexible working, you do not have to make your request for parental leave in writing, unless your employer requests it. If your employer asks that you make your application in writing then do so immediately. Include proof of your entitlement to parental leave (e.g., a photocopy of your baby’s birth certificate, a certificate showing your baby’s due date, or proof of adoption).

Can my employer refuse parental leave?

No. 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.

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. So don’t do it.

Do I have the right to return to my existing job after parental leave?

You have the right to return to work after 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. In that is not practical, then your employer must offer you another job which is both suitable and appropriate for you.

Can my employer sack me for taking parental leave?

Unfortunately, some employers resent employees for taking parental leave. In 2017, a Trades Union Congress investigation found some employees, particularly men, saying they felt they had been stigmatised at work for requesting parental leave.

If your employer penalises 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 – either from a lawyer, your union (if you belong to one), ACAS, Maternity Action, Citizens’ Advice or any of the other organisations listed here – because there are strict time limits for bringing a complaint, usually three months (less one day) from the bad treatment or termination of your employment.

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