Parental leave increased to 18 weeks

Year Published: 2013

Parental leave is a form of statutory unpaid leave which is available to some parents. This leave is provided in addition to maternity, adoption and paternity leave and is more flexible in terms of when it can be taken and how it is to be split across the year. Prior to Friday, 8 March 2013 certain employees were entitled to take 13 weeks and this has now been increased to 18 weeks.

Parental leave is available to birth and adoptive parents and employees who have or expect to have parental responsibility in respect of a child. The right to parental leave applies in respect of each child, therefore an employee with parental responsibility for one child would be eligible for 18 weeks and for 3 children the employee would receive 54 weeks.

In the absence of any contractual agreement which varies, enhances but not reduces the parental leave rights, the statutory provisions would apply.

All eligible employees are permitted to:

  • Take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child for the purpose of caring for that child
  • Take the leave at any time before the child’s 5th birthday, before the 5th anniversary of the date of placement of an adopted child or before the 18th birthday of a child in receipt of disability living allowance
  • Have certain contractual rights and obligations protected during the period of parental leave
  • Return to the job they left or a suitable alternative after the expiry of the leave.

Parental leave is only available to employees and in order to take parental leave the employee must at the time the leave is to be taken:

  • Have been continuously employed for a period of not less than one year; and
  • Have or expect to have responsibility for a child.

In practice those who normally have responsibility for a child include:

  • Both birth parents (whether they are living with the child or not)
  • Adoptive parents
  • Parents under a surrogacy agreement who have secured or expect to secure legal parental responsibility
  • Others who have legal parental responsibility such as a guardian
  • Step and foster parents are not normally covered unless they already have or expect to have parental responsibility for a child through adoption.

A week’s leave is a normal working week for the employee and therefore captures part time employees. Employees must take the leave in multiples of one week and therefore one day would count towards one week of leave under the statutory scheme. This can be varied by contract.

The purpose of the leave must be to allow the parent to care for the child. If the employee has asked for the leave for wider purposes then the employer is deemed to have granted unpaid leave and this should not be taken from the parental leave allocation. The scope of “caring for a child” is broad and can include:

  • Spending more time with the child
  • Looking at new schools
  • Settling into new childcare arrangements
  • Spending more time with family i.e. visiting grandparents / family abroad.

Parental leave must be requested in advance. If there are good business reasons not to permit the parental leave at that time, the employer may postpone it for up to 6 months. The leave can then be taken later. The employer cannot refuse a leave request and cannot postpone leave that had already been postponed.

Employees may seek a remedy in the employment tribunal if the employer:

  • Subjects the employee to a detriment
  • Unreasonably postpones a request for parental leave
  • Prevents or attempting to prevent taking of parental leave.

If you have any questions regarding the right to parental leave please contact our Employment team.

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