Employees with young or disabled children are entitled to parental leave, and providing the employee complies with the necessary requirements, employers should permit the leave – although employers can have some say on when it is taken. The entitlement is provided for under section 76 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (as amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999).
The right to parental leave is available to male & female employees, but is still conditional:
- the employee must have one year’s continuous service;
- the employee has a child;
- the employee has – or expects to have – parental responsibility for the child (although they do not have to be living with the child);
- the child is under the age of five, or was adopted within the last five years, and is under the age of 18.
The actual entitlement to leave does vary: employees are entitled to 13 weeks’ unpaid leave, or 18 weeks if the child is entitled to receive disability living allowance.
The rights apply to a single child, so if an employee has more than one qualifying child, they may take parental leave for each of the children.
The right to leave applies to the child, not the employment. Therefore, if an employee has already taken some or all of the leave with a previous employer, they will not be able to take that again. Employers are not required to keep, let alone share, formal records though, so it will be very difficult for employers to know if their employees have previously taken the leave.
As an employer, you can request evidence from staff before allowing their entitlement, although any requests should be reasonable.
Before an employee is permitted leave, they must give the employer 21 days notice; this notice should include the start & end dates of the leave. The notice does not have to be in writing, so employers should always ensure they record the details when an employee mentions that they intend to take Parental Leave.
Changing When the Leave is Taken
Employers may find that the timing of Parental Leave is not convenient. In cases where employers do have good business reasons to, employers can postpone the leave for up to six months, as long as this does not alter the employee’s right to the leave – the conditions above would still need to apply at the proposed time of the leave.
Any decision to postpone leave must be taken carefully – this must be because the leave would cause a significant disruption to the business. However, where an employee is taking Parental Leave immediately following maternity, paternity, or adoption leave, employers cannot postpone the leave.
Significant disruptions that may justify postponing leave could include:
- leave requested during a peak season
- staffing levels, where leave has already been approved to others
- the employee’s attendance at the time is essential for the business
Purpose of Parental Leave
Employees are permitted to take Parental Leave to care for or spend time with the child; it is not a general right to unpaid time off, and any suspected abuses should be dealt with under your disciplinary procedures. Parental Leave is not intended to be used for emergencies – see Time Off for Dependants for emergencies.
For more advice, or assistance on drafting a policy for your workplace, employers should contact Employment Law Clinic: