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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Taking parental leave

If you qualify for parental leave then there are certain steps you must take when applying, including deciding how long to apply for. Your employer could postpone your request, but only on very specific grounds.

Parental leave arrangements

Wherever possible, employers and employees should make their own agreements about how parental leave will work in a workplace. If this is not possible the following rules apply. Your workplace agreement cannot be less favourable than these.

Giving notice

You must give your employer 21 days’ notice of when you want to begin your parental leave. Your employer may ask for this to be in writing. As long as you qualify for parental leave and give your employer the correct notice you are able to take parental leave at any time.

To take parental leave straight after the birth or adoption of your child you should give notice 21 days before the beginning of the expected week of childbirth or placement. In cases where this may not be possible you should give notice to your employer as soon as possible. For example, if your child is born prematurely or where less than 21 days' notice is given that your child is to be placed with you for adoption.

If you have given the correct notice, your parental leave can start on the day your child is born or placed, even if that is earlier or later than the date you gave your employer.

Your employer can accept less than 21 days' notice.

Time off for emergencies

All employees also have a right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with certain emergencies involving their family. For example, a child falling ill, a breakdown in childcare arrangements or a problem at a child’s school. You do not have to give notice in advance for this emergency leave. But you will need to tell your employer as soon as you can what the problem is and when you expect to be back at work.

One week blocks

You must take your leave in blocks of full weeks.  A week is based on your usual working pattern. So if you only work Mondays and Tuesdays, a week would be two days or if you work Monday to Friday, a week would be five days. 

If your child has a disability, you can take time off in blocks of less than a week, so you could use parental leave for regular hospital visits.

If your child is not disabled, your employer may still let you take parental leave in shorter blocks if they wish. If not and you want time off in odd days, for example to take your child to the dentist, you should ask your employer if you can work flexibly or use your holiday allowance.

Four weeks per year

Each parent can't take more than four weeks' leave for any one child in a year.

For these purposes, a year starts when you become eligible for parental leave. This is either when you have worked for your employer continuously for one year or when your child is born, if this date is later.

Your employer can let you take a longer period of parental leave each year if they wish.

Pay during parental leave

Statutory parental leave is unpaid, but check your employment contract - your employer might offer you pay. If you are on a low income, you might get Income Support.

If you are paid bonuses as part of your contract and a bonus is due to be paid during your parental leave, you should check your terms and conditions of the bonus scheme and if necessary seek independent legal advice on whether you are entitled to the bonus. As a general rule:

  • if the bonus relates to performance or work already done prior to your parental leave you would generally be entitled
  • if the bonus is a reward of future work or performance, during a period when you will be absent on parental leave, you would be unlikely to be entitled

If your employer postpones your leave

Unless you want to take parental leave straight after the birth or adoption, your employer can postpone your leave for up to six months if they feel it would disrupt the business. Reasonable grounds for your employer to postpone your leave could include:

  • the period that you apply for is at a seasonal peak
  • if a significant proportion of the workforce has applied for parental leave at the same time
  • if your role is such that your absence at a particular time would unduly harm the business

Your employer should discuss this with you and confirm the postponement arrangements in writing no later than seven days after you apply for the leave. Your employer should state the reason for the postponement and set out the new dates of your parental leave, as agreed with you. The length of leave you are given should be equivalent to the amount you applied for.

If the postponement goes past the end of your entitlement period (eg after your child's fifth birthday), you can still take the leave.

Carrying over leave

If you get a new job, you can carry over untaken parental leave. You won't be able to take leave until you have been with your new employer for a year.

What to do if you are not allowed to take parental leave

If you have the right to take parental leave and are refused, talk to your employer or HR (human resource) department about the reasons. If you have an employee representative (for example, a trade union rep) they may be able to help. You may need to make a complaint using your employer's internal grievance procedure.

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