Introduction to parental leave
Parental leave is a legal right to take time off from work to look after a child or make arrangements for a child’s welfare. Employers are not legally required to pay workers taking parental leave, so many do not. However, if you are on a low income, you may qualify for income support while you are on parental leave.
Mothers and fathers qualify for statutory parental leave whether they are biological or adoptive parents.
Parental leave is different to other parenting-related leave arrangements such as maternity, adoption and paternity leave.
Your parenting leave entitlement
Working parents are entitled to take up to 18 weeks’ parental leave per child up to their eighteenth birthday.
Parental leave can be taken for any reason as long as it’s related to the care of your child. Examples of the way it might be used include:
- spending more time with your child in their early years;
- accompanying your child during a stay in hospital;
- looking at new schools;
- settling your child into new childcare arrangements;
- enabling your family to spend more time together. For example, taking them to stay with grandparents.
If you take less than four weeks’ parental leave in one block, you have the legal right to return to your old job. If you take more than four weeks in a block, you are only entitled to return to the job you did before if it is reasonably practicable. If it isn’t, your employer must give you a comparable and appropriate job.
You can only take parental leave if you have been continuously employed for not less than a year and have, or expect to have responsibility for the child.
“Responsibility for the child” is a legal term. You will normally have responsibility for the child if you are the mother of the child or the father of the child and you are either married to the mother of the child or your name appears on the birth certificate of the child, having registered jointly with the mother.
You may also have legally acquired parental responsibility. Check with your UNISON rep if you are unsure.
Some employers allow flexibility in the way parental leave is taken. You might, therefore, be able to work reduced hours over a given period, for example, without losing any pay. Or your employer may allow you parental leave even though your child is over the statutory age for you to legally qualify.
Check with your UNISON rep whether any special arrangements have been negotiated with your employer.
Dealing with emergencies
Even if you don’t qualify for parental leave, you should be able to get time off to deal with genuine emergencies. You have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with certain emergencies involving people you care for.
You qualify for “time off for dependants” regardless of how long you have been working for your employer.
Next steps for UNISON reps
Negotiate with your employer on parental leave if you think parents are not able to exercise their right to parental leave or if there is no policy in place where you work.
Make sure your members know about any local arrangements in place with your employer.
- You have the right to take time off to look after your children until they are 18 years old.
- Parental leave gives qualifying employees with one year’s
service up to 4 weeks’ a year for each child under 18 years of age they have, or expect to have, responsibility for, up to a maximum of 18 weeks in total.
- Your employer doesn’t have to pay you for parental leave, but it’s worth checking to see if any special arrangements have been made where you work.