What is parental leave?

by Nadine De Souza

Did you know that your employees can take parental leave to spend more time with their children, settle their child into a play group, take a child on holiday or for their child to spend time with their grandparents? 

But who’s entitled to this leave and does it have to be paid? Read on to find out more.

Who is eligible for parental leave?

An employee is eligible for parental leave if:

  • They have worked for the company for a year
  • They’re named on the child’s birth certificate or adoption certificate
  • They have or expect to have parental responsibility
  • They’re not self-employed or an agency worker
  • They’re not a foster parent (unless they have parental responsibility through the courts)
  • The child is under five (or 18 in special circumstances)

How much leave can be taken?

Eligible employees have a right to take 18 weeks’ unpaid leave before the child is five years' old. For disabled children, it's 18 weeks up to their 18th birthday.

Is it transferable?

The right to parental leave is an individual one and isn’t transferable. This means that both parents will be able to take up to 18 weeks’ leave if they're both working, but they will not be able to add their leave entitlement so that one parent can take more than 18 weeks and the other less.

Does it have to be taken together?

A parent can only take up to four weeks a year, unless you, as their employer, agree differently. The leave is supposed to be taken in blocks of whole weeks and not individual days. There is an exception if the employee's child is disabled.

A ‘week’ is the amount of time that an employee usually works over seven days.

Are they still entitled to the same benefits while they're on leave?

The employment relationship continues during the leave period although the parental leave is unpaid. Your employee is entitled to the same benefits and obligations as they would be if they were on maternity leave. 

An employee that takes parental leave for a period of more than four weeks or immediately after a period of maternity leave has the right to return to their old job at the end of the leave period.

How much notice must they give?

Your employee must give you 21 days’ notice of their intention to take parental leave. 

If parental leave is to begin on the birth of a child or on the placement of a child for adoption, the notice must be given at least 21 days before the beginning of the expected week of childbirth or week of placement.

Can parental leave be postponed?

You, as an employer, can postpone when parental leave is taken, unless it’s taken on the birth or placement of a child. 

You can postpone the leave if the operation of your business would be unnecessarily disrupted. Be warned, though, that you must allow your employee to take the leave within six months and you can’t postpone their leave if to do so would mean that they would no longer qualify for parental leave; for example, postponing their leave until after their child’s fifth birthday. 

If you want to postpone your employee’s leave, then you must give notice within seven days after the employee’s notice requesting leave was given. 

If you unreasonably postpone or prevent your employee taking parental leave, then your employee can take you to an employment tribunal.

Can leave be transferred from job to job?

It's good practice to keep records of when your employees take parental leave. When an employee changes jobs their parental leave carries over. 

This means that if an employee has used ten weeks of parental leave with their previous employer, then they have only eight weeks left to use. 

It's sensible to ask a previous employer to provide details of whether parental leave has been taken by the individual and, if so, how much.

Shared parental leave reforms

Shared parental leave is due to be introduced in December. It's a new right that will allow eligible employees - who are mothers, fathers, partners and adopters - to choose how they share time off from work after their child is born or adopted. To take shared parental leave, the baby must be due to be born - or placed for adoption - on or after 5 April 2015.

Help from Lawpack

This article has been adapted from Lawpack’s Employment Law Made Easy

If you want more in-depth information – from an employment lawyer – about all aspects of employment law, then read our guide Employment Law Made Easy. Packed with tips and expert advice on complying with employment legislation.

Why not download our Parental Leave Policy so you have a solicitor-approved company procedure in place?

Other information

External links

Published on: March 25, 2014

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