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Parental leave

Parental leave was introduced by the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, which gave effect to the EU parental leave directive, and has been amended by the Parental Leave (EU Directive) Regulations 2013.
These regulations give employees the right to take a period of parental leave. Employers have flexibility to adopt a parental leave policy that works for them and their business as long as certain minimum requirements are met. In the absence of a parental leave policy, default rules apply that regulate how parental leave can be taken.
Parental leave is unpaid, and has to be taken for the purpose of caring for a child.
Parental leave should not be confused with shared parental leave, which is available to the parents of babies due (or placed for adoption) on or after 5 April 2015 (see Shared parental leave).

Key points

  • Employers can - in conjunction with employees or their representatives - work out their own policy on parental leave, as long as this reflects certain minimum statutory rights.
  • If no parental leave policy is adopted a default scheme applies.
  • Parental leave is unpaid, and has to be taken for the purpose of caring for the child.
  • Parental leave is only available to employees who have at least one year's continuous service with their employer.
  • The employee is allowed to take up to 18 weeks' leave (in total) for each child (this period was previously 13 weeks but was increased to reflect revisions to the parental leave directive).
  • Parental leave can be taken up until the child becomes 18, but is restricted to a maximum of four weeks in any year, unless the employer and employee agree otherwise.
  • Employees must give 21 days' notice if they wish to take parental leave; an employer can postpone (but not refuse) the request in certain circumstances.
  • If an employee suffers any detrimental treatment as a result of taking or asking to take parental leave s/he can bring a complaint to the employment tribunal.