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Parental Leave Overview

Employees with children have the statutory right to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave per child. This is in addition to any rights to statutory maternity, paternity or adoption leave.

This fact sheet provides a brief explanation of these rights. For further information, see Parental Leave Factsheet [FS23.02].

Parental leave is available to mothers, fathers and adoptive parents and should not be confused with Shared Parental Leave, which is only available if a mother or primary adopter forfeits their right to some of their maternity/adoption leave, which may then be used by either parent as shared parental leave. For further information, see Shared Parental Leave Overview [FS24.01].

Employees also have the statutory right to emergency unpaid time off for dependants. For more information, see Time off for dependants Overview [FS25.01].

The Right

All employees have the following statutory rights:

  • A right for each parent of a child aged 17 or under to take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave per child, provided that they have 52 weeks’ service at the time of taking the leave. 
  • Parental leave can be taken at any time up to the child’s 18th birthday.
  • In the case of multiple births/adoptions, 18 weeks’ leave must be provided for each child.
  • Leave must be taken in blocks of at least one week. Individual days cannot be taken unless the child is disabled.
  • One week’s parental leave is equivalent to the length of time that an employee is normally required to work in a week.
  • The employee remains employed while on parental leave.

Parental leave is an entitlement for employees only and does not apply to agency workers or self-employed contractors.

Unless the employer agrees otherwise in a collective or workforce agreement (see Parental Leave Factsheet [FS23.02]), the following rules apply to parental leave (known as the “fallback scheme”):

  • Leave must be taken in blocks of one week, up to a maximum of four weeks’ leave per year (for each child).  If leave is to care for a disabled child, leave may be taken a day at a time or longer if the employee wishes.
  • 21 days’ notice must be given by the employee to take parental leave. If leave is to be taken immediately after birth or adoption, 21 days’ notice of the expected week of childbirth or the expected week of placement should be given by the employee.
  • The employer can postpone the leave where the operation of the employer’s business would be unduly disrupted by the employee taking the leave, but it cannot be postponed for more than six months. The employer should confirm the postponement arrangements in writing no later than seven days after the employee’s notice to take leave, and the employer’s notice should state the reason for postponement and set out the new dates of parental leave.
  • Leave cannot be postponed when an employee gives notice to take it immediately after the date the child is born or placed with the family for adoption.


The right is available to all employees who have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for a child and who have at least 12 months’ service at the time the leave is taken.

Notification to take Parental Leave

Under the fallback scheme, the employee must give at least 21 days’ notice to take parental leave.

For a sample notification see Notification to take Parental Leave [TP23.01].

For a letter acknowledging a request, see Letter acknowledging a request for Parental Leave [SL23.01].

For a template to record leave booked and taken, see Record of Parental Leave [TP23.03].

Postponing Leave

Employers are entitled to postpone a request for parental leave once for up to six months where they consider that the leave would unduly disrupt the operation of the business, except where the leave is requested to be taken immediately after birth or on an adoption placement. It is not possible to shorten the length of the parental leave or to split this into smaller blocks.

In order to exercise this right, the employer must consult with the employee about the proposed revised dates for the leave and give notice in writing to the employee within seven days of the employee’s notice to take parental leave. The employer must specify the reason for the postponement and the new dates of the leave.

If leave is unreasonably postponed, an employee can bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal.

For a template letter, see Letter postponing Parental Leave [SL23.02].

Rights during Parental Leave

During parental leave, the employee’s contract of employment continues in force (except in relation to pay/remuneration).

Rights on and after returning to work

On resuming work after parental leave, the employee is entitled to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions as if he/she had not been absent, provided that:

  • The parental leave was for a period of four weeks or less and was not taken in conjunction with any other period of statutory leave taken in relation to the same child (such as maternity, paternity or adoption leave); or
  • Where the parental leave was taken in conjunction with another period of statutory leave, the parental leave was the last of the leave to be taken, it was not for more than four weeks and the parental leave, plus the other leave taken, does not total more than 26 weeks.

If the employee has taken more than four weeks’ parental leave, or a combination of statutory leave in relation to the same child that totals more than 26 weeks, the employee is entitled to return to the same job, or if this is not reasonably practicable, to another job which is suitable and appropriate for the employee to do, on terms and conditions which are not less favourable than those which would have applied had they remained at work.

Protection from detriment and dismissal

An employee may complain to an Employment Tribunal where their employer has unreasonably postponed a period of parental leave or has prevented them from taking parental leave.  Employees also have the right not to be subjected to any detriment for reasons relating to taking or seeking to take parental leave and any dismissal on these grounds is automatically unfair. 

These rights apply regardless of an employee’s length of service.

This document has been created by, or on behalf of ESP Ltd, as a general document and as a guide in relation to its subject matter and has not been bespoke drafted for you or the specific circumstances in which you are looking to use it. Prior to using this document and undertaking any HR process you must consult your organisation’s own policies and procedures to ensure that you do not do anything in conflict with your own policies and procedures.  If in any doubt as to how to use this document or, if you require any legal advice, please feel free to contact ESP Ltd on 0333 006 2929 and our legal team will be more than happy to assist.  ESP Ltd will not be liable in any way for any actions undertaken by you or your use of this document unless we have been consulted regarding your use of this document as legal advisor to your business or have bespoke drafted any documentation in response to a specific support request.

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