Statutory parental leave rights apply to full time and part-time employees provided that they satisfy the qualifying conditions. The leave is normally unpaid unless there is a contractual provision for payment within the contract of employment. It can be taken by both mothers and fathers, whether they are the natural or adoptive parents, who have formal parental responsibility for the child. Parental leave is different from the shared parental leave entitlement.
The purpose of parental leave is to care for the welfare of a child. Caring for the child does not necessarily mean being with the child 24 hours a day. Parents may wish to take parental leave to spend more time with their children in their early years or may have a more specific reason such as to accompany a child during a stay in hospital or settling a child into a new child care arrangement.
In order to qualify an employee must have worked for an employer continuously for a year by the time they want to take the leave. They will be entitled to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave for each child born or adopted who is under the age of 18 (pro rata entitlement for part-time employees). The leave can commence once the child is born or placed for adoption, or as soon as the employee has completed a year’s service, whichever is later and can be taken at any time up to the child’s 18th birthday.
Each parent can take up to four weeks parental leave for each child in a year, but individual employers may agree to increase that. It must be taken in whole weeks rather than in individual days unless the employer agrees otherwise or if the child is disabled. A week for these purposes equals the length of time an employee normally works over seven days, eg if an employee works four days a week, one week of parental leave equals four days.
As the leave applies to each child rather than to an individual’s job if an employee moves jobs, provided they are eligible for parental leave in the new job, if they have not taken their full entitlement in the previous job they may use the remainder in their new job.
Giving notice and further details
Employees who wish to take parental leave must give 21 days notice before the date they intend to start the leave. The start and end dates must be specified. The employer may require the notice in writing. If the employee wishes to take parental leave straight after the birth or adoption of the child an employee should give 21 days notice before the beginning of the expected week of childbirth or placement, or if this is not possible then as soon as possible.
Parental leave cannot be postponed by the employer unless there is a significant reason, eg it would cause serious disruption to the business, in which case the employer must provide a written explanation within seven days of the original request. They must also suggest a new start date within six months of the requested start date. They cannot change the amount of leave being requested.
An employee will remain employed during parental leave.
For hospital doctors employed under national terms and conditions of service or other doctors who have contracts of employment which make reference to national terms and conditions of service the employer should have a policy which gives details of parental leave entitlement. The statutory provisions will apply but the local policy may offer enhanced provisions. An individual will have a right to at least 18 weeks leave for each child. The leave is normally unpaid, but may be paid by local agreement. The right to parental leave is applicable to any employee with 12 months’ service in the NHS. Such leave is regarded as continuous service.
Get more details of an employee’s statutory rights to parental leave