Can I Take Unpaid Parental Leave?

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Unpaid parental leave allows eligible employees to take a limited amount of time off work each year on an unpaid basis for child-related reasons such as to spend more time with their children or family.

During this period of unpaid parental leave, the employee’s rights are protected, for example, to annual leave and the right to return to their job.

Unpaid parental leave is separate to time off work to deal with emergencies involving dependants, such as illness or injury. This would be covered by dependants’ leave.

It is also separate to shared parental leave, where any maternity or adoption leave can be divided between two parents.

Am I entitled to unpaid parental leave?

In order to qualify for unpaid parental leave, the following criteria must all be met:

  • The child must be under 18.
  • You must be an employee.
  • You must have been continuously employed by your employer for a period of not less than a year.
  • You must have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for the child.

Agency or casual workers, or those without a contract of employment, will be excluded from any entitlement to unpaid parental leave.

Similarly, anyone who is not named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate, or who does not have parental responsibility are also excluded, regardless of whether they have day-to-day care of the child such as foster parents or grandparents.

However, in some cases, employers may have extended the statutory entitlement to unpaid parental leave. Check your contract of employment and your organisation’s staff handbook or HR policies to understand your full entitlement.

How much unpaid parental leave am I entitled to take?

Under the current rules, an eligible employee is entitled to take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave in respect of any individual child.

Leave can be taken at any time before the child’s 18th birthday.

What is the maximum annual allowance of unpaid parental leave?

You are only entitled to take up to 4 weeks unpaid parental leave in any one year. Unless your child is disabled, any period of leave must also be taken in blocks of whole weeks rather than individual days.

A week is taken to be the length of time that an employee normally works over 7 days. By way of example, if you work for 3 days a week, that would be regarded as your weekly entitlement to unpaid parental leave.

If you work irregular weeks, the number of days in a week is the total number of days you work a year, divided by 52.

How much notice do I need to give before taking unpaid parental leave?

You are required to give your employer a minimum of 21 days’ notice before taking unpaid parental leave. If you or your partner are having a baby or adopting, the requisite notice period is 21 days before the week the baby or placement of the child is expected.

You will need to confirm the start and end dates of the period of unpaid parental leave, although any notice does not have to be in writing unless your employer requests this. Your employer may also ask for proof of your entitlement to parental leave, for example, your child’s birth certificate or proof of adoption.

Can my request for unpaid parental leave be refused?

Subject to satisfying the eligibility criteria, your request for unpaid parental leave may not be refused. However, your employer may postpone your period of leave for up to 6 months if they consider that your absence would unduly disrupt their business.

If your employer postpones your request, this must be explained in writing within 7 days of the original request and suggesting a new start date for the unpaid parental leave to be taken.

Any leave requested to take place immediately following the end of maternity leave, or in the case of fathers, for the period immediately after the birth of a child or their placement in adoption, cannot be postponed.

Can I carry over any unpaid parental leave into a new job?

Your entitlement to unpaid parental leave applies to each child, not to each job. However, any remaining leave can be carried over into subsequent employment, although you will need to work for your new employer for 12 months before you can qualify to take any further unpaid parental leave.

Whilst your new employer may make enquiries with either you and/or your previous employer as to the amount of leave already taken, there is no duty on employers to keep records relating to unpaid parental leave or to provide this information if requested by a subsequent employer.

Are my employment rights protected whilst on unpaid parental leave?

If you take unpaid parental leave, your employment rights relating to notice, redundancy, as well as disciplinary and grievance procedures, remain the same and are protected.

You also have the right to return to the same job if you take unpaid parental leave of 4 weeks or less. If you take more than 4 weeks leave, you have the right to return to the same job, unless your employer can show that this is not reasonably practicable. In this case, you are entitled to return to an alternative suitable job on the same or similar terms.

What if I am treated unfairly as a result of taking unpaid parental leave?

By law you have the right not to be treated unfavourably or to be dismissed because you are taking, or are seeking to take, unpaid parental leave.

In the event that you feel you have been unfairly treated or subject to a detriment, you may want to try to resolve your concerns by raising the matter informally with your line manager or employer. You could also raise a formal grievance in writing.

As a last resort, or for any claim of unfair dismissal, you may want to lodge a complaint with the employment tribunal. Typically, there is a three-month time limit for bringing a tribunal claim from the date of the dismissal or discrimination.

Should I seek legal advice in relation to my right to unpaid parental leave?

If you have made a request for unpaid parental leave and you feel that this request has been wrongly denied, or even unreasonably postponed, you should seek expert legal advice from a specialist in employment law.

Expert advice should also be sought in the event that you feel that you have been treated unfairly as a result of taking, or seeking to take, unpaid parental leave. This may include being subject to a detriment or being unfairly dismissed.

The law provides a clear entitlement to unpaid parental leave and affords eligible employees legal protection in the event that their rights are breached. Accordingly, your legal adviser will be able to discuss the practical options available to you, including bringing an employment tribunal claim.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.