Being a parent is a full-time job in itself, so it's not surprising parents sometimes need more time off than their annual leave. Parental leave can give you up to four weeks time off work a year. To find out if you qualify, and how it works, read on.
To take parental leave you must:
- be an employee
- have been employed by the same employer for a year
- be taking the time off to care for the child (this could include looking at schools or settling them into childcare)
- have (or expect to have) parental responsibility for the child
Will I be paid?
Parental leave is usually unpaid. You may be able to claim Income Support.
How much time off?
Each parent can take up to four weeks off per year, however, each parent only has a total of 13 weeks to take off before the child is five (or 18 weeks before the child is 18 if the child receives Disability Living Allowance (DLA). There are special rules for adoptive parents.
The leave must be taken in multiples of a week, unless the child receives DLA in which case it can be taken a day at a time.
What notice do I have to give?
You must give your employer 21 days' notice, in writing. The notice must say when the leave is to start and finish. If you are taking the leave beginning with the birth of a new baby you can give your employer a copy of the MATB1 maternity certificate and ask to start from the actual date of the birth.
What if my employer says no?
Your employer cannot refuse the time off, but they can postpone it by up to six months with good reason. To do this they must write to you within seven days of your notice to tell you when you are able to take the time off and why you cannot take it at the time you want. Employers cannot postpone parental leave for a birth or postpone it beyond your child's 18th birthday.
Even if they give the right notice, if they unreasonably postpone the parental leave you may have a claim against them, so seek advice.
While employers rarely pay parental leave, they may have better policies about the amount of time you can have off or the notice you have to give, so check your contract as well.
Effect on your career
Some employers can have cynical attitudes towards people taking time off for family matters, but your employer must not treat you less well for taking, or trying to take, parental leave. You have the right to return to the same job after parental leave.