Unpaid Parental Leave: Your Right to Extra Time Off
Sometimes it can be almost impossible for working parents to juggle their jobs with complications associated with parenting. Occasionally, an unexpected need arises in relation to your child’s welfare and you simply have to deal with it — even though you’re trying to hold down a job. For this reason, working parents in the UK are protected by law and are entitled to a fairly generous amount of unpaid parental leave from work, without their jobs or employment rights being threatened as a result. While such absence from work is unpaid, time off can be an absolute godsend when your child’s welfare is at stake. Today, we take a look at eligibility and rules around unpaid parental leave for UK parents.
Reasons to Take Unpaid Parental Leave
Entitlement to take unpaid parental leave from work comes down to the need to look after the welfare of your child under 18. Some examples may help to illustrate a few of the possible scenarios:
- Perhaps you can’t arrange alternative childcare for a particular future period. However, this will happen while you’ll be busy at work and, at that point, you also know you’ll have no more annual leave remaining. In such a situation, you simply have to look after them yourself using your unpaid parental leave entitlement. After all, they are very young and cannot simply be left to fend for themselves.
- Another example would be when you need to take time off with your youngster to go and look at nurseries, pre-schools, schools or even further education settings when it’s nearing time for them to enrol with one. When it’s not possible to do such things outside of working hours, at weekends or during standard annual leave, unpaid parental leave can really come into its own.
- You may also wish to take unpaid leave from work to ensure your child settles in well at any new childcare or education setting. A week’s grace when they start somewhere new can really help you and your child at such major milestones in your lives.
- Unpaid parental leave can also be taken for something as simple, though important, as spending some quality time with family. For example, perhaps the child hasn’t spent time with their grandparents in a while and you’d like to pay them a visit as a family. Unpaid parental leave, away from work, can be used for that.
Your Unpaid Parental Leave Entitlement
There are a few, simple rules around entitlement to unpaid parental leave in the UK:
- You are entitled to take up to a total of 18 weeks of parental leave from work, on an unpaid basis, by the time your child reaches the age of 18.
- You can take up to 4 of those weeks in any one year.
- The entitlement applies to your own children as well as adopted children.
- The entitlement is per child under 18.
- You need to take the time off in whole weeks, rather than ad-hoc days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or unless your child is disabled. For part-time or shift workers, a whole week would be equivalent to the number of working days you usually work in any 7 day period. For those working an irregular pattern, an ‘average week’ can be computed by looking at the number of days worked over a whole year, then dividing by fifty-two.
- The 18 week maximum, per child under 18, is based on the child(ren) not the job. So, aside from the additional eligibility requirements outlined below, the number of times a parent changes jobs along the way is not relevant.
Additional Eligibility Requirements
As well as the child(ren) being under the age of 18, a few additional requirements need to be met in order to be eligible for unpaid parental leave:
- Only those who have been employed by the current employer for at least a year are eligible;
- The scheme applies to employees only, not the self-employed, agency workers or contractors;
- The employee must be actually named on the birth or adoption certificate(s) of the child(ren) in question, or have — or expect to have — official parental responsibility;
By law, employers do require sufficient notice from you when you’re planning to take unpaid parental leave. Legally, they require 3 weeks’ notice (21 days) before you can begin to take the time off. You will also usually need to confirm an end date. In practice, though, some employers are lenient when an unexpected emergency occurs and such notice may not be possible, for example a child suddenly becoming ill and no other childcare being available on such short notice. They are not obliged to be lenient in this way, however.
Your employer does have a right to postpone (but not cancel) your requested parental leave if they can show that the business would suffer or be disrupted, or for some other significant reason. However, they cannot postpone it …
- if such a postponement would take the date of parental leave past the child in question’s 18th birthday,
- or if the leave is being taken by the father/partner right after the child has been born or adopted.
When an employer does confirm that it needs to be postponed, it must be done in writing, with the reason explained, within a week of the employee’s request. It must also be rescheduled for no later than 6 months after that original request date. The amount of time originally requested must also not be altered by the employer.
We hope that this guide is useful to parents with children under 18. Please feel free to share it on social media or to bookmark it in your browser.
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