A simple guide to parental leave

Have you ever found yourself slightly unsure about the various categories of leave your employees could be eligible to take when it comes to their children? It can get a bit confusing. While there are a number of different types of leave an employee can take if they are, or are about to become, a parent, they aren’t all referred to as parental leave… even though they are all forms of leave for parents!

In the first twelve months…

It’s useful to highlight the fact that most forms of leave connected with becoming or being a parent must be taken in the first twelve months around the time that the baby is born, or the baby or child is adopted.

These types of leave are:

  • Maternity leave
  • Paternity leave
  • Adoption leave
  • Shared parental leave

So only one of them is officially termed as a form of parental leave – in this case, shared parental leave.

How is shared parental leave different to ‘ordinary’ parental leave?

Even though the names are similar, shared parental leave is different to ‘parental leave’ (which is also often referred to as ordinary parental leave).

Shared parental leave applies to eligible parents and only in the first year following the child’s birth or adoption or receiving the parental order if the parents had the child by a surrogate.

As the name suggests, the entitlement to shared parental leave is split between parents. Fifty weeks of leave are potentially available. But in practice the actual amount taken depends on how much maternity leave the birth parent, or how much adoption leave the primary adopter, takes. They must take a minimum of two weeks of maternity/adoption leave. So after that’s been taken, fifty weeks are then potentially available to share between parents depending on how much more maternity/adoption leave is used. If someone decides to take their full maternity leave entitlement for example, there won’t be any entitlement for shared parental leave left.

And just to be clear – the amount of shared parental leave doesn’t increase if more than one baby is born at the same time, or if more than one child is adopted at the same time. Leave must be used within that initial 52-week period irrespective of the number of children who are welcomed into the family at that point in time.

So what’s ordinary parental leave?

Unlike the other forms of leave mentioned above, ordinary parental leave is usually unpaid. However, some employers do choose to offer some pay. So if you have a request for parental leave, double check what your employee’s contract says. And note that employees are still eligible to accrue holiday entitlement during ordinary parental leave.

Who is entitled to parental leave and what are they entitled to?

Firstly, they must meet the obvious criteria of being a parent and being named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate, or having or expecting to have parental responsibility. This form of leave doesn’t generally apply to foster parents unless they specifically have parental responsibility.

Secondly, they need to have been an employee for at least a year.

In total, up until the child’s 18th birthday, a parent can take 18 weeks of leave. The law sets a limit on the amount that can be taken in any one year at four weeks. Companies can decide to let employees stay off longer. Employees can’t take leave as individual days scattered over the year either. It must be taken as a whole working week block – whatever a working week typically looks like for each requesting employee within a seven-day period. Leave can be taken as consecutive weeks, or as separate weeks across the year.

It doesn’t matter if someone changes job. They won’t gain or lose leave as the entitlement amount relates to the child. So if someone joins you and they have already used up some of their leave, they will only be able to take what is outstanding.

How much notice should employees give you – and can you say no?

Employees can’t just take parental leave on the spur of the moment. They need to give you 21 days’ notice, confirming both their planned start date and end date of the period of leave.

While operationally it might not be ideal for you, it’s always worth being as accommodating as possible. Parental leave is often taken when an employee has used up all other paid options open to them, like holidays, to manage a particular childcare challenge or situation. So a supportive employer is likely to be appreciated.

You can postpone the leave in certain circumstances. But you do need to be able to clearly demonstrate that it would cause genuine and considerable disruption if the employee was off at their requested time. You must write and tell the employee within seven days of them making their request, suggesting an alternative start date within six months of the start date they asked for.

There are some circumstances where you don’t have any option to postpone the leave. For example, if the postponement would mean the child reaches the age of 18, preventing the employee from having the opportunity to take it again. Or if a father or partner wishes to take it straight after the birth or adoption of a child, adding it onto a period of paternity leave.

Do you need some support making sure you’re complying with what’s required?

Working out leave entitlements, and making sure you are abiding by all the requirements can become complex and time consuming. If you’d like to talk a situation through with us, you’d be very welcome to do so. Our HR Advice Service lets you purchase blocks of time with us to discuss any HR issues you are unsure about, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

ordinary parental leave, parental leave, shared parental leave

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