Understanding unpaid parental leave

Unpaid parental leave is by far one of the most under-publicised rights available to employees.

If an employer receives a request for unpaid parental leave and has never heard of it, it may catch them off guard.

Here are seven things all employers need to know.

1  It should not be confused with Shared Parental Leave.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is a flexible form of leave available to both parents to care for their new baby. If the eligibility and notice requirements are met, the new parents can decide how to share up to 50 weeks of leave to care for the child. SPL must be taken within one year of the birth of the child and the employee may be entitled to up to 37 weeks of Statutory Shared Parental Pay.

However, with unpaid parental leave, each parent is entitled to up to 18 weeks of leave for each child. It allows employees to take time off to care for their child’s welfare, for example, to look for a school for their children. It can commence once the child is born or placed for adoption, but may also be taken at any time up until the child’s 18th birthday.

As the name suggests, the time off the employee takes is unpaid. However some employers do choose to be more generous and offer paid parental leave.

2  There are eligibility conditions.

To be eligible for unpaid parental leave, they must be an employee, have formal responsibility of the child and have one year’s continuous service. Therefore, this excludes workers and self-employed contractors.

3  Employees must provide notice.

An employee needs to provide 21 days of notice of the start date of parental leave. If they wish to take leave after birth or adoption, they need to give 21 days of notice before the expected week of the birth or placement.

There is no statutory requirement for the request to be submitted to the employer in writing, but you may ask your employees to do so.

4  Employees can’t just take the odd day off.

Employees are required to take time off as whole weeks, unless you agree to otherwise or the child is disabled.

A ‘week’ is based their working hours. For example, full-time employees can have the full five days off. If an employee works two days a week, one week off for unpaid parental leave purposes is two days off.

5  There is an annual limit.

The employee is allowed to take four weeks per child in each year, unless the employer decides to be more generous.

6  It applies to each child, not each job.

Parental leave is an entitlement that can be transferred from one employment to another. Therefore the employee may join the employer with some outstanding parental leave in relation to a particular child. This means that if they have taken eight weeks of parental leave for their son with their previous employer, they may be eligible to take ten weeks with their new employer.

In such circumstances, the employee will need to have been employed for at least one year before they can resume taking parental leave.

7  Employers can postpone leave in certain circumstances.

Employers should always try to accommodate requests for parental leave. An employer can postpone any leave for up to six months in order to accommodate business needs. You must consult with the employee over suitable alternative dates and explain in writing within seven days of the employee giving you notice of the reason for postponing leave and provide new dates.

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