Law guide: Employment

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Parental leave

Parental leave

Parental leave

Parental leave is a right for parents to take time off work to look after a child or make arrangements for the child's welfare before the child's 18th birthday. There is no requirement for an employee to be paid during parental leave.

When is it available?

Parental leave is available to employees who have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for a child. To be eligible, employees generally have to have one year's continuous service with their current employer. However, special rules apply for parents of children born, or placed for adoption, before 14 December 1999. They will be eligible for parental leave from their current employer if they completed one year's continuous service with another employer between 15 December 1998 and 9 January 2002.

Employees get 18 weeks' leave in total for each child. Parents of disabled children receiving disability living allowance also get 18 weeks' leave in total. In all cases a maximum of four weeks' parental leave in a year can be taken in respect of any individual child.

Details of parental leave

Employees are able to take parental leave in short or long blocks depending on what has been agreed with you, which must be taken in periods of one week, or multiples of one week.

An employee must give at least 21 days' notice of a wish to take parental leave. The employer can postpone the leave for up to six months where the business would be particularly disrupted if the leave were taken at the time requested but leave cannot be postponed when the employee gives notice to take it immediately after the time the child is born or is placed with the family for adoption.

Employers may be justified in postponing leave when, for example, the work is at a seasonal peak; where a significant proportion of the workforce applies for parental leave at the same time; or, when the employee's role is such that their absence at a particular time would unduly harm the business.

After parental leave

All employees will have the right return to a job with the same seniority, pension rights and similar rights. They will also have the right to return to a job with the same terms and conditions (including remuneration) that are as favourable as they would have been if the employee had not gone on leave.

Right to return to the same job

Northern Ireland

An employee will be entitled to return to the same job they had before taking leave if they took no more than 4 weeks of parental leave (in addition to any ordinary maternity leave) and no additional maternity leave.

England, Wales and Scotland

An employee will be entitled to return to the same job they had before taking leave if they:

  • took no more than 4 weeks of parental leave; or
  • the parental leave of 4 weeks or less followed another period of statutory leave (such as additional maternity or shared parental leave but not parental leave) and the total leave taken for the child was 26 weeks or less.

Right to return to the same or alternative job after leave

When parental leave follows a period of additional maternity leave or a period of leave doesn't follow the above rules regarding the right to return to the same job, the general rule is that the employee is entitled to return to the same job they had before the leave. However, if you cannot reasonably return an employee to the same job, they will be entitled to a similar job which has the same or better status and terms and conditions as the old job. The new job must be both suitable and appropriate to do in the circumstances. A suitable and appropriate alternative job must be as close as possible to the previous role held by the employee.

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