Parental leave

Parental leave allows working parents the right to take unpaid time off work to look after a child or make arrangements for their welfare. It can help you spend more time with your child and balance your work and family commitments.

Qualifying for parental leave

If you have a child aged under 18, you may have the right to parental leave. To qualify, you must be an employee and have at least one year's continuous service where you work.

You must also be the parent:

  • named on the child's birth certificate
  • named on the child's adoption certificate
  • with legal parental responsibility for a child under 18

If you're separated and don't live with your children, you have the right to parental leave if you have formal parental responsibility for the children.

Parents who don't qualify for parental leave

If you are self-employed, an agency worker or contractor, you aren't entitled to parental leave.

Foster parents don't have rights to parental leave but may be able to ask for a flexible working pattern.

Evidence you qualify for parental leave

Your employer can ask for evidence you're entitled to parental leave. This could be:

How much parental leave you can take

Each parent can take 18 weeks' parental leave for each child up to their 18th birthday.

If your child is adopted, each parent can take 18 weeks' parental leave. You can take this until your child's 18th birthday.

Parental leave is an individual right. You cannot transfer the leave between parents. For example a father cannot take ten weeks and the mother take 26 weeks.

Pay during parental leave

Statutory parental leave is unpaid, but check your employment contract - your employer might offer you pay. If you are on a low income, you might get Income Support.

Your employer's parental leave scheme

Check your employment contract or staff handbook for your employer's parental leave scheme. Your employer may have extended parental leave to include other workers including:

  • foster carers
  • grandparents
  • employees who have worked there less than a year

Time off that's not parental leave

If you don't qualify for parental leave but need time off to care for your child you could:

  • take paid holiday
  • ask your employer for unpaid time off
  • ask your employer about flexible working

If there's an emergency and you need to take time off at short notice:

  • your employer may let you take emergency leave
  • you may have the right to take time off to arrange care

Time off for dependants

All employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with certain emergencies involving people they care for. This is 'time off for dependants'. 

There is no qualifying period. You can take this leave for child or adult care responsibilities.

Deciding to take parental leave

Parental leave is time to care for your child. This means looking after their welfare and could include making arrangements for the good of your child.

Caring for a child doesn't mean being with the child 24 hours a day. You can parental leave to spend more time with your child.  You can take parental leave: 

  • when your maternity, paternity or adoption leave ends
  • to spend more time with your child in their early years
  • to have time with your child when they're in hospital
  • to see new schools
  • to help your child adjust to new childcare
  • to allow your family to spend more time together, for example, taking your child to stay with grandparents

You can take parental leave immediately after your maternity, paternity or adoption leave providing you give the right notice.

If your employer doesn't allow parental leave

If you have the right to take parental leave and are refused, ask your employer about the reasons. If you have an employee representative (for example, a trade union rep), they may be able to help. If this doesn't work, you may need to complain using your employer's internal grievance procedure.

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