Parental leave — not to be confused with ‘shared parental leave,’ which allows both parents to share paid parental leave — is unpaid time off for mums and dads with children under 18 years of age.
Your employees might be entitled to take parental leave for all kinds of reasons, from researching a new school to simply spending more family time together. Here’s what you need to know.
What is parental leave?
Eligible employees can take parental leave to look after the welfare of their children. Parental leave is unpaid, but the employee’s employment rights — such as the right to return to their job — are protected during it.
Reasons employees can take parental leave include:
- Visiting school events or researching a new school
- Spending family time, such as visiting grandparents in another town
- Organising new childcare arrangements
Who is eligible for parental leave?
Your employees are legally eligible for parental leave if they:
- have a child under 18;
- have been with your organisation a year or more, and are not an agency or contract worker; and
- they’re a legal guardian of the child with parental responsibility (i.e. not a foster parent);
Employees must meet all of the above criteria. You can ask for proof, such as a birth certificate, the first time the employee requests parental leave. It’s unreasonable to ask for proof every time.
Extending parental leave
Your organisation can choose to extend parental leave eligibility to a wider group of employees, such as step-parents and ordinary foster parents. Rules should be included in your employee handbook.
How much parental leave can employees take?
Eligible employees are entitled to 18 weeks of parental leave for each of their children, including adopted children, under 18 years of age.
The maximum statutory parental leave they can take in one year is four weeks per child. You can increase this allowance if you choose.
Employees must take parental leave as whole weeks, not individual days, unless the child is disabled. Your organisation can allow employees to take individual days if preferred.
What happens when employees change jobs mid-year
Parental leave allowance applies to the child, not the job. If a new employee with one child has taken six weeks of parental leave at their previous job, they’ll be entitled to a further 12 weeks before the child turns 18.
Requesting and delaying parental leave
Employees requesting parental leave must give you 21 day’s notice. When giving notice, they should also confirm the start and end dates of their leave.
You can delay or postpone an employee’s parental leave if you have a valid reason, such as that it would cause significant disruption to business. Delays must be explained to the employee in writing within seven days of their request. You can’t delay leave if it’s being taken directly after the birth of the child, or until after the child’s 18th birthday when the employee would no longer be eligible to take it.