What is parental leave?

21 December 2020

Parental leave refers to unpaid time off that parents can receive to take to look after their children. It is not the same as shared parental leave and parental bereavement leave, which this article will cover later.

Crucially, shared parental leave is a form of unpaid parental leave in the UK.

You may be wondering “what is shared parental leave”, and how does it differ from parental leave? The key difference is that shared parental leave forms part of the family leave entitlements given to staff upon the birth, or adoption, of a child.

There are special rules that govern the take up of unpaid parental leave.

Parental leave in the UK

Working parents in the UK have distinct parental leave rights that employers need to be aware of.

Employees who qualify have a right to take up to 18 weeks' unpaid leave in total for the purposes of caring for a child. The right to take leave applies in relation to each of the employee's children, including twins or other multiple births.

What amounts to "caring for a child" is widely open to interpretation. It could include simply spending more time with the child or visiting other family members.

A default scheme governs the right to parental leave unless an employer adopts a different policy.

Under the default scheme:

  • a maximum of four weeks' leave per child is available during a particular year. There are special rules that set out when each leave year begins.
  • leave is only available in blocks of a week or multiples of a week. This is unless the child requires care and qualifies as disabled. In this case, it may be available in blocks of a day.

Employers can provide forms of paid parental leave if they choose to, such as allowing some of the leave paid at a reduced rate. This must be clear in the policy and must be consistent across the board to avoid accusations of unfairness.

Parental leave entitlement

Parental leave is only available for employees who have at least one year's continuous service with their employer. If an employee changes employer they can only take any remaining leave once they have completed a year's service.  This is if they have not already used their entire parental leave entitlement

Both parents of a child are eligible to take leave. To be eligible, the employee must have or expect to have, responsibility for the child.

An employee who wishes to take parental leave must give the employer at least 21 days' notice. They must state the dates on which they wish the period of leave to start and end.

An employer can postpone the leave. But only if it considers that the operation of the business would be unduly disrupted by the employee taking leave at that time. It must do this within seven days of receiving the employee's notice

Emergency parental leave

Parental leave is not the same as time off for dependants. This is emergency time that all employees can take to deal with unforeseen situations. These situations must involve dependants, such as children.

While this is also an unpaid period of time, it is a day one right. It usually only lasts a maximum of two days, although this will vary depending on the situation.

How does shared parental leave work?

A woman who is eligible for shared parental leave in the UK has the right to bring her maternity leave and pay period to an end early. They can convert the outstanding period of maternity leave and pay into a period of shared leave. Either parent can receive this pay.

Shared parental leave is available in a more flexible way than maternity leave. It does not have to be a single continuous period. Leave periods can be as little as a week and both parents can be absent from work at the same time.

Shared parental leave pay

Statutory shared parental pay, paid at the lower rate of statutory maternity pay (SMP), will be available for eligible employees.

This applies broadly to those with average earnings at or above the lower earnings limit. It also applies to those who have complied with the relevant notification requirements. This is under how the parents have decided to split their statutory shared parental pay entitlement between them.

You can pay no more than 39 weeks of SMP and statutory shared parental pay in total, with a maximum of 37 weeks of payments as statutory shared parental pay.

Statutory shared parental pay's rate is lower than SMP without the higher 90 per cent element that applies during the first six weeks of SMP.

Shared parental leave examples

A woman on maternity leave is receiving SMP. She brings her leave to an end after 26 weeks. Thanks to this, she can convert the remaining 26 weeks of maternity leave into SPL.

She can then convert the remaining 13 weeks of SMP into shared parental pay. The shared parental leave and pay are then divided between the parents as they wished if both parents qualify for it.

Shared parental leave forms

Shared parental leave forms should include various things, such as:

  • Who is taking leave: whether it’s the mother, their partner, or both parents.
  • Employee information: name, contact information, address, etc.
  • Start and end dates of leave: this can include the amount of leave available.
  • Declaration of intent: this includes expectations of the parent during the leave. As well as confirming their legal position of being the parent of the child.

Parental bereavement leave

This is a new form of leave that provides the right to employees to take a period of time away from work. This is in the event there is a death of a child under the age of 18 or a stillbirth after 24 weeks.

This is also a day one right for employees. Those who have worked for you for at least 26 weeks are also entitled to parental bereavement pay.

How and when this leave is available is likely unknown to your staff. Due to this, it is important to outline all of this within a parental bereavement leave policy.

Help with parental leave

Understanding parental leave can be confusing.

Establishing policies, handling adoption leave, it's all important information to have at hand. Ensure that your employees understand what leave is available to them.

Peninsula has teams of HR experts ready to help at any time. Consult our specialists on our 24/7 HR assistance hotline or secure air-tight contracts with our document experts.

For any and all queries, get in touch with us today by calling 0800 028 2420.

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