The lowdown on unpaid leave

  • Leave and Absence
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Look around your workplace. Some people may have children. A lot of your employees probably have elderly parents. Others might have needy pets. Such responsibilities may keep them off work. And it’s why unpaid leave exists. So what is unpaid leave? It can be: 1. Dependant leave 2. Parental leave 3. After a bereavement 4. To carry out a public duty 5. To take a career break or sabbatical Let’s face it. Your employees would prefer to be paid when they take leave from the workplace. But when the world outside your workplace throws yours your employees a curveball, they might need some unpaid time out.

1. Dependant leave

The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives your staff a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off to care for someone who depends on them. It’s called dependant leave. Parents and carers in your office can also take unpaid leave. What counts as ‘reasonable’? That could be for a tribunal to decide...

2. Parental leave

Some parents don’t plan to take parental leave. Others do. After one year of service, parents with a child get 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave up until that child becomes a legal adult. There’s a limit of four weeks off per year, per child. And that applies to every child one of your employees might have.

3. Bereavement leave

As morbid as it might sound, death is a part of life. And the last thing your employees will want to think about when a close relative has died is coming to work—especially if they’re arranging a funeral or taking care of the estate. By law, you don’t have to pay your employees if they take time off following the death of a family member. Bereavement leave or compassionate leave usually lasts from three to five days (but you can use your discretion). You’ll want to relieve the burden of a bereavement on your employees as much as you can.

4. Leave for public duties

Let’s face it. No two employees are the same. Some people enjoy being school governors. Magistrates spend extra time in courtrooms. You can let your employees with those responsibilities have unpaid leave, even if it’s not your idea of fun. Another example is jury service. Nobody chooses to do it, but you still have to go. But while you don’t have to let your employees do jury service, you shouldn’t refuse their request unless there’s a genuine business need.

5. Taking time out

Imagine this. One of your star employees asks you for a quick chat on Monday morning. “So I’ve been thinking over the weekend. I’ve decided I’m going travelling for three months around South America so I can improve my Spanish. What do you think?” Pause for a second. You can go one of two ways. A: “We’re coming up to a peak period, and I can’t really afford to lose an employee for six days, let alone six months. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to agree to a long period of unpaid leave.” Or B: “That sounds great, I’ll get someone in when you’re away. Your role will still be here for you when you get back.” Whether it’s a few days off or even a few months away to study, travel, or do voluntary work, the power to say yes or no lies with you. When making your decision, think about: What will happen if the sabbatical turns into a permanent break. Will you be able to train someone up to do the job? And are the training costs worth it if your employee's coming back anyway?

The value of unpaid leave

Your business is your priority, but your employees might not feel the same way. How much you value the employee making the request will be a big part of your decision. Do you have all the answers to create your own unpaid leave policy? We do, all you need to do is ask.


Got a question? Check whether we’ve already answered it for you…

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