Parental Leave in the UK: How Does it Work?

When you are a new parent or you’re about to have a child you are entitled to certain rights. One of them is unpaid parental leave. In addition to maternity, paternity and adoption leave, parental leave enables employees to take some time off work when necessary to ensure the welfare of their child.

Why take parental leave?

At certain stages of parenthood you might experience moments when you need more time than usual to look after your child. Parental leave is a right that allows employed mothers and fathers to stop working for a while in order to fulfill parenting duties. Mums and dads can use this time off for different reasons, for instance, if they want to look for new schools or to visit family members that live far away. It can also be useful in case of unexpected problems such as difficulties in making childminding arrangements.


happy young father playing baby toddler


Who is eligible for parental leave?

To qualify for this right you must have worked as an employee in the same company for at least a year. You must also be named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate. If you’re expecting to have parental responsibility, you are equally eligible for parental leave. You can apply for parental responsibility should you not automatically have it (for instance because you are the dad, the second female parent or the step-parent).

On the other hand, you are not entitled to take unpaid time off work for your child if you’re self-employed, a contractor or an agency worker. Foster parents are also ineligible in the majority of cases. However, depending on what’s written in your staff handbook, you may find that your boss is willing to extend parental leave to you even if you would not normally be entitled to it. It’s always worth checking to see if you enjoy this right!

How can I use it?

Parents are entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for each of their children. You can choose to make use of this right just after the birth or the adoption of your child, or after maternity or paternity leave. It can also be taken at any moment until your child is 18 years old.

To use your parental leave, you’ll have to take it in blocks of a week or several weeks. Additionally, you can’t exceed four weeks a year per child, unless your boss says otherwise. Exceptions are made for parents with disabled children. The weeks you take must be equal to your average work week. For example, if you’re working four days a week, one week of parental leave corresponds to four days.

How do I claim parental leave?

If you decide to use your right to take unpaid time off work you must issue a request no later than 21 days before the beginning of the intended leave. Some employers require a written notice, so it’s always best to check with him or her first. Take note that you’ll remain employed during your unpaid time off.

Your employer also might ask you to prove your parental situation, for instance, by providing a copy of your child’s birth certificate. However, don’t worry, your boss is not permitted to demand proof each time you ask for parental leave. Equally, your employer cannot refuse your request for leave as long as you are eligible for it and you follow the correct procedure to obtain it.

What about shared parental leave?

Parental leave is not to be confused with shared parental leave, a new entitlement that started in the beginning of 2015. The latter’s purpose is to allow dads, mums, adopters and also partners to share time off work to look after their child during the first year following birth or adoption. This right applies to gay and lesbian couples and co-habiting parents, as well as couples raising a child together, regardless of whether the child is from a previous relationship or not.

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