Employees who have served one year’s continuous service are entitled to take parental leave in order to care for a child.

Not to be confused with ‘shared parental leave’, parental leave is usually unpaid and allows the employee to take up to 18 weeks off work for each child under 18 years. This time can be taken immediately following maternity or adoption leave, or at any point up until the child’s 18th birthday.

The nature of parental leave

Parental leave ensures a child has access to appropriate care and supervision at all times. This can include medical appointments, arranging time for the child to spend time with their grandparents or helping the child settle into any new childcare arrangements. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the parent is expected to personally supervise the child for the entirety of the leave period.

Be aware that parental leave can only be taken in blocks of one week and not single days – unless this is explicitly agreed with the employer or the child has a disability. If this is not explicitly agreed and the employee chooses to only take one day’s parental leave, one full week will be deducted from their total allowance.

Employer considerations

Where possible, the employer should be given at least 21 days’ written notice in advance of the start of parental leave so that they have adequate time to arrange cover. In mitigating circumstances, such as a premature birth, the employer should be notified of the intention to take parental leave as soon as possible.

Employers also reserve the right to postpone parental leave if there is a sound business reason for doing so, such as seasonal work or a staff cap on approved absences. Employers can postpone this time up to a maximum of six months, providing that the child does not reach their 18th birthday in that time.

The law behind parental leave

The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 is the main piece of legislation that covers parental leave entitlement in detail.

A shorter revised version was issued in 2014 – The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. (Amendment) Regulations 2014 – which documents several amendments to the original legislation.

Summary

  • Parental leave is available to employees who have worked a minimum one year’s continuous service and is usually unpaid unless otherwise stated.
  • Employees are able to take a maximum of 18 weeks parental leave for each child up until their 18th birthday.
  • Employers should be given at least 21 days’ written notice in advance of parental leave, and reserve the right to postpone a parental leave request if there is a fair business reason for doing so.