A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Parental Leave

Is Parental Leave the same as Shared Parental Leave?

No. Parental Leave is completely different from Shared Parental Leave (SPL) which came into force on 1st December 2014. This page deals with Parental Leave – for information on SPL click here.

Are you entitled to parental leave?

If you have a child under 18, you may have the right to parental leave. To qualify you must be an employee and have at least one year’s continuous service where you work.

You must also either be the parent:

  • named on the child’s birth certificate
  • named on the child’s adoption certificate
  • with legal parental responsibility for a child under 18

If you are separated and you don’t live with your children, you have the right to maternity, paternity or adoption leave if you keep formal parental responsibility for the children.

If you are self-employed or a worker (eg agency worker, contractor etc) then you are not entitled to parental leave.

Foster parents do not have rights to parental leave under employment law, but may be able to request a flexible working pattern.

Your employer could ask for evidence that you are entitled to paternity, adoption or maternity leave. This could be:

  • your child’s birth certificate
  • papers confirming your child’s adoption or the date of placement in adoption cases
  • the award of disability living allowance for your child

How much parental leave can you take?

Each parent can take a total of up to 18 weeks’ parental leave for each child up to their 18th birthday. This is the same for parents of adopted children – although the time limit is the fifth anniversary of their placement or until their 18th birthday, whichever comes first.

Can I get paid during parental leave?

Statutory parental leave is unpaid, but check your employment contract – your employer might offer you pay.  If you are on a low income, you might get Income Support.

If you don’t qualify for parental leave under employment law

Always check your employment contract or staff handbook for your employers own paternity, adoption or maternity leave scheme. Your employer may have extended parental leave to include other workers, (eg. foster carers, grandparents or employees who have worked there less than a year).

If you don’t qualify for parental leave under employment law but need time off to care for your child you could:

  • take paid holiday
  • ask your employer for unpaid time off
  • ask your employer about flexible working

If there’s a genuine emergency and you need to take time off at short notice:

  • your employer may let you take emergency leave
  • you may have the right to take time off to arrange for care

All employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with certain emergencies involving people they care for. This is known as time off for dependants, and applies regardless of how long you have been working for your employer or whether you have child or adult care responsibilities.

Purpose of parental leave

The purpose of parental leave is to care for your child. This means looking after their welfare and could include making arrangements for the good of your child.

For employment law purposes, caring for a child does not necessarily mean being with the child 24 hours a day. Parental leave might be taken simply to enable you to spend more time with your young child. Examples of the way parental leave might be used include:

  • straight after your maternity, paternity or adoption leave
  • spending more time with your child in their early years
  • time with your child during a stay in hospital
  • looking at new schools
  • settling your child into new childcare arrangements
  • allowing your family to spend more time together, for example, taking your child to stay with grandparents

You can take parental leave immediately after your maternity, paternity or adoption leave providing you give the correct notice.

What to do if you are not allowed to take parental leave?

If you have the right to take parental leave and are refused, talk to your employer or your HR (human resource) department about the reasons. If you have an employee representative (for example, a trade union rep), they may be able to help. If this doesn’t work, you may need to make a complaint using your employer’s internal grievance procedure.