Parental leave is a right for parents to take time off work to look after a child or make arrangements for the child's welfare before the child's fifth birthday (or 18th birthday if the child is disabled and receiving disability living allowance). There is no requirement for an employee to be paid during parental leave.
Parental leave is available to employees who have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for a child. To be eligible, employees generally have to have one year's continuous service with their current employer. However, special rules apply for parents of children born, or placed for adoption, before 14 December 1999. They will be eligible for parental leave from their current employer if they completed one year's continuous service with another employer between 15 December 1998 and 9 January 2002.
Employees get 18 weeks' leave in total for each child. Parents of disabled children receiving disability living allowance also get 18 weeks' leave in total. In all cases a maximum of four weeks' parental leave in a year can be taken in respect of any individual child.
Employees are able to take parental leave in short or long blocks depending on what has been agreed where they work, which must be taken in periods of one week, or multiples of one week.
An employee must give at least 21 days' notice of a wish to take parental leave. The employer can postpone the leave for up to six months where the business would be particularly disrupted if the leave were taken at the time requested but leave cannot be postponed when the employee gives notice to take it immediately after the time the child is born or is placed with the family for adoption.
Employers may be justified in postponing leave when, for example, the work is at a seasonal peak; where a significant proportion of the workforce applies for parental leave at the same time; or, when the employee's role is such that his or her absence at a particular time would unduly harm the business.
At the end of parental leave, an employee is guaranteed the right to return to the same job as before if the leave was for a period of four weeks or less; if it was for a longer period the employee is entitled to return to the same job, or, if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job which has the same or better status, terms and conditions as the old job.
When parental leave follows maternity leave, the general rule is that a woman is entitled to return to the same job she had before the leave. If at the end of additional maternity leave, this would not have been reasonably practicable, and it is still not reasonably practicable at the end of parental leave, she is entitled to return to a similar job which has the same or better status, terms and conditions as the old job.