Employment law

What is Parental Leave?

What is Parental Leave? Image of a father cradling a baby

Table of contents

    Parental leave is a right for parents who are employees to take time off work to look after a child or make arrangements for the child’s welfare. Parents can use it to spend more time with children and strike a better balance between their work and family commitments.

    Parental leave is unpaid (unless your Employers offers a contractual right to payment) and available for each child born or adopted.

    In Autumn 2013, the European Court of Justice decided that a surrogate mother was entitled to maternity leave. The UK government will amend legislation from 1st December 2014 so that prospective parents in a surrogacy arrangement who apply for a parental order are eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay, shared parental leave and pay and paternity leave and pay.

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    Who can take parental leave?

    Parental leave is available to employees who have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for a child. To be eligible, employees generally have to have one years continuous service with their current employer. For more information about continuous service, see our guide here.

    How long does parental leave last?

    Employees get 18 weeks in total for each child.

    What happens if an employee has twins?

    Parental leave is for each child, so if twins are born/adopted each parent will get 18 weeks leave for each child.

    When can parental leave be taken?

    • As long as they give the correct notice to their employer, parents are able to take parental leave at any time from the birth (or adoption) up to the child’s 18th birthday.
    • You may have to give notice to your Employer to take parental leave – this may be set by your employer but generally it is 21 days notice of when you want to start the leave
    • You must take your leave in blocks of a full week (unless your employer allows you to take it in shorter blocks). If your child is disabled you can take time off in blocks of less than a week
    • You can take a maximum of four weeks parental leave each year for each child (unless your employer allows you to take more)
    • If you get a new job during the 18 years you can carry over any untaken parental leave to your new employer, although you may not be able to take this leave until you have been with your new employer for a year
    • Please note your employer has the right to postpone your requested parental leave dates for up to six months, if their business would be significantly affected by your leave. Your Employer should discuss this with you and confirm the postponed arrangements, in writing, no later than seven days after you apply for the leave. They should set out the new dates you’ve agreed and the length of the parental leave should be the same as you originally applied for.

    Will employees be able to return to the same job after parental leave?

    • At the end of parental leave, an employee is guaranteed the right to return to the same job as before if the leave was for a period of four weeks or less; if it was for a longer period the employee is entitled to return to the same job, or, if that’s not reasonably practicable, a similar job which has the same or better status, terms and conditions as the old job if one is available
    • When parental leave follows maternity/adoption leave, the general rule is that a woman is entitled to return to the same job she had before the leave, if the parental leave was for four weeks or less. If at the end of additional maternity/adoption leave, this wouldn’t have been reasonably practicable, and it’s still not reasonably practicable at the end of parental leave, she’s entitled to return to a similar job which has the same or better status, terms and conditions as the old job if one is available
    • A European Court of Justice case in September 2013 (Halliday v Creation Consumer Finance Ltd) found that an employee absent on parental leave could be made redundant, as long as the reason for the dismissal wasn’t the parental leave (this will apply to maternity leave and paternity leave too).

    Since 1st October 2014, prospective fathers/partners of pregnant women and intended parents in surrogacy arrangements, will have the right to take time off to attend two antenatal appointments with their partner. There’s no legal right to paid time off and the time off to attend appointments will be for a maximum of 6.5 hours on each occasion. This applies to all employees and agency workers with 12 weeks service. ‘Fathers’ must provide reasonable notice of these appointments but there is no need (legally) to provide evidence of the appointment.

    Since 2015, eligible parents have been able to take Shared Parental Leave, see more details here

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    Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.