Parental leave is time off to care for a child. It applies to men and women who have completed one year's qualifying service with their employer by the time they want to take the leave, and have responsibility for a child as a biological, foster, adoptive or step parent.

To qualify, the employee's child must have been under the age of five on 15 December 1999, adopted or placed for adoption after 15 December 1994.

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. This was recently increased to 18 weeks for parents of disabled children. The leave must be taken before the child's:

  • Fifth birthday
  • 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
  • Beginning of the expected week of childbirth where a father wants leave to begin when a child is born
  • Beginning of the week of a child's placement for adoption, or as soon as is reasonably practicable when the child is to be placed

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.

An employer cannot, however, postpone parental leave without the employee's agreement where the employee is the father and wants it to begin when his child is born, or if the child is to be placed with the employee for adoption and the leave is to begin on the day of placement.

Emergency leave

Employees have the right to reasonable unpaid leave where their “dependants” are affected by:

  • Illness, injury, assault or childbirth
  • Breakdown in childcare/other care arrangements
  • The consequences of a death
  • 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 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.