Parental leave is unpaid time off to care for a child. It applies to male and female employees who have completed one year's service by the time they want to take the leave, and have legal responsibility for a child as a biological or adoptive parent.

To qualify, the employee's child must be under the age of five (or under 18 if the child is disabled).

The minimum period of parental leave that can be taken in one go is one week (unless the child is entitled to Disability Living Allowance) and the maximum is four weeks. Employees are protected against unfair dismissal and detrimental treatment for taking parental leave.

Entitlement

An employee is entitled to 13 weeks' unpaid leave for each child, or 18 weeks for parents of disabled children. The leave must be taken before the child's fifth birthday, or eighteenth birthday if the child is entitled to a Disability Living Allowance.

Employees must apply for leave at least 21 days before the day it is to begin. Employers may require documentary evidence to support an application and may postpone parental leave for up to six months if it would disrupt the business. If so, the employer must give the employee written notice within seven days of receiving the request, stating reasons and the revised leave dates.

Emergency leave

Employees also have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid leave when their “dependants” are affected by emergency situations, such as: illness, injury, assault or childbirth; breakdown in childcare/other care arrangements; the consequences of a death or where a child is in a serious incident at school or during school hours.

Dependants are: spouses, children, parents and other people living in an employee's house (except lodgers), and others who might rely on an employee in emergencies, such as elderly neighbours.

To take this leave, employees should give notice to employers as soon as is reasonably practicable, giving the reason for, and likely duration of, absence. “Reasonable” time off is not defined but, usually, one or two days will suffice.