Parental leave – for when your child needs you at home

Any parent will tell you that it’s not always easy to juggle the demands of home and work.

 Parental leave – for when your child needs you at home

What if you have to take time off to look after a sick baby? Or maybe your child has a hospital appointment or is settling into a new school?

Unpaid leave

Of course, many employers understand the responsibilities of working parents and are happy to be flexible, particularly if a child is unwell.

But employment law also recognises that mums and dads sometimes need to be with their children, and many parents are therefore entitled to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks to look after their little ones.

Please note that parental leave is different to shared parental leave, which caters for time off work, split between parents, following the birth of a child.

Parental responsibility

To qualify, you must meet a number of strict criteria.

First, you must be named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate and have or expect to have parental responsibility. 

Foster parents are not eligible for unpaid parental leave unless they have been granted parental responsibility by a court.

Employment conditions

There are certain employment conditions, too. Parents must be an employee, so not self-employed or a contract worker. They must also have worked for their company for more than a year.

Young children

Parental leave is aimed primarily at parents of young children, so the child must usually be under the age of five. However, the age limit rises to 18 if the child has disabilities.

If your child is adopted, you can take up to 18 weeks up to their 18th birthday or the fifth anniversary of their adoption, whichever comes first.  

“...parental leave is different to shared parental leave, which caters for time off work, split between parents, following the birth of a child....”

Maximum leave

The maximum amount of unpaid parental leave is 18 weeks, but you cannot take the full 18 weeks in the same year.

The normal annual limit is four weeks - and a week means a week; you cannot take a day here and there, unless your employer agrees or your child is disabled.

The leave can start any time after the birth of the child and some fathers use unpaid parental leave to extend their paternity leave. You might also be able to take unpaid parental leave if you are not eligible for paternity leave.

Give your employer notice

If you want to take unpaid parental leave, you should give your employer at least 21 days’ notice of the intended start date.

Your employer can ask for reasonable proof of your parental status, such as a copy of the birth certificate, but it cannot make life difficult for working parents. For example, it could not demand a copy of the birth certificate at each request for parental leave.

Postpone leave

You should bear in mind that an employer is within its rights to postpone parental leave if there is a good enough reason. However, it cannot ask a father (or the partner of the baby’s mother) to delay the leave if he plans to take it after the birth of a baby, or if the delay would push the leave beyond the child’s fifth birthday.

If the employer postpones parental leave, it must explain why within seven days. It must also put forward a new start date that is within six months of the previously requested date.

Multiple children

Remember, too, that parental leave applies to the child, not the job. So if you switch employers and you have already taken 10 weeks of unpaid leave, you can take another eight weeks in your new job, as long as you meet the eligibility criteria.

You can also take 18 weeks for each child, so if you have two children, you could be entitled to 36 weeks of unpaid parental leave in total.

Check with your employer

Unpaid parental leave should not affect your normal employment rights. It’s also worth checking with your employer even if you do not fulfill the eligibility criteria as some companies extend unpaid parental leave to all employees.

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