Do you know enough parental leave and what your employees are entitled to? My blog looks at the legal obligations regarding unpaid leave to take care of a child.
What is parental leave?
Parental leave is leave, usually unpaid, available for parents to take time off work to take care of their child. It’s available for each child up to their 18th birthday, and employees are entitled to up to 18 weeks per child.
This leave must be taken as whole weeks rather than individual days, unless you agree otherwise with the employee or if the child is disabled.
Parental leave is not to be confused with shared parental leave, which is parents splitting and sharing maternity leave allowance.
Why would employees request parental leave?
Unpaid parental leave may be used to look after a child’s welfare. Examples include:
- staying with a child who is in hospital
- spending more time with a child
- making and settling children into school/childcare arrangements
- visiting family.
Employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) are protected during parental leave.
An employee should give at least 21 days’ notice, and you can ask for this notice to be in writing. If an employee wants to take parental leave straight after the birth or adoption of a child they should give 21 days’ notice before the expected week of childbirth or placement.
Employees can take parental leave at any time up until the child’s 18th birthday but cannot take more than four weeks in any one year.
Do you have to pay employees during parental leave?
There is no obligation to pay employees during parental leave. If you do choose to do so, you need to clearly set this out in the terms and conditions of employment.
An employee qualifies for parental leave once they have completed 12 months continuous employment. After the birth of a child, if an employee starts working somewhere else, they must work continuously for a year before becoming eligible for parental leave.
As Acas states, to be eligible for parental leave the employee must also have a child under the age of 18 and:
- be named on the child’s birth certificate
- be named on the child’s adoption certificate
- have legal parental responsibility for the child.
If the child’s parents are separated or the employee does not live with the child, they still have the right to parental leave if they have formal parental responsibility for the child.
What if the parental leave could disrupt your business?
If you believe that the requested leave could be detrimental to your business, you do have the right to postpone parental leave for up to six months after the original requested start date. If this is the case, you must write to the employee within seven days of receiving their request stating why the leave is being postponed and give new dates for the leave to be taken. You need to make sure that the requested period of leave is completed before the child’s 18th birthday, even if this is less than six months away from the date of the original request.
Parental leave cannot be postponed immediately following a birth or adoption.