Taking time off work for family reasons

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The time off rigths for working parents provide a number of opportunities for leave.

Working parents can make use of a number of different rights to take time off work to help with childcare and family responsibilities.

What are working parents’ rights to time off work?

The types of family leave available include:-

  • maternity leave – for mothers/birthing parents to take paid leave before and after having a child
  • paternity leave – for parents to take paid leave when a partner is having a baby
  • adoption leave – similar to maternity (but for legal adoption)
  • parental leave – allows parents to take unpaid leave
  • emergency leave – time off in an emergency involving a dependant

All employees can also request flexible working.

Can you take time off work for family reasons?

Yes! There are lots of different types of leave – some paid, some unpaid – that can be used by working parents.  Mothers can take maternity leave when they have a baby. One parent can take adoption leave after adopting.  Fathers/partners can take paternity leave after the birth of a baby or after adoption.  All employees are entitled to unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.  All parents are entitled to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave, per parent, per child, until the child reaches age 18.

How long is parental leave?

Every employee parent with more than one year’s employment is entitled to take up to 18 weeks’ parental leave at any point up to the child’s 18th birthday.  The 18 weeks is per parent, per child. It must be taken in blocks of one week, unless the child is disabled, in which case it can be taken in single days. No more than 4 weeks’ parental leave can be taken in a year.

Can my employer refuse parental leave?

Employers can’t refuse parental leave requests, but they can postpone your parental leave for up to six months if your absence would disrupt work at the time you’ve requested to take off.

What is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave is different to parental leave.  Shared parental leave enables working parents to share the period that would otherwise be used by the mother’s maternity leave, meaning the father/partner can take up to 50 weeks’ shared parental leave and they can share 50 weeks of the 52 week maternity leave period the mother could otherwise take. Similarly, adopters can share the adoption leave period by opting to take shared parental leave.

The idea is that it gives working parents more flexibility over who takes on the childcare, but it hasn’t had much take up since its introduction. The regime is fairly complicated.

Some forms of ‘family leave’ may be paid, and others may be unpaid.

Can both parents be on shared parental leave at the same time?

Apart from the first two weeks following birth (or the first two weeks after adoption), the whole of the maternity/adoption leave period can be shared.  So, if 10 weeks’ maternity leave are taken, the remaining 42 weeks can be shared between the mother/main adopter and the father/partner/second adopter.

That means one or other parent can be on shared parental leave for a total of 42 weeks, swapping periodically.  Or, both parents can be on shared parental leave together, for say 15 of those 42 weeks, leaving another 12 weeks for one or other parent to take after the other has returned to work. As we said above, it is fairly complicated!

Do you get paid for shared parental leave?

In line with maternity leave and adoption leave, 37 weeks of shared parental leave is paid – it’s 37 not 39 weeks because you can’t swap the first two weeks’ after birth/adoption, meaning that the statutory pay is paid for the same total of 39 weeks for all these types of leave.

Can I take time off work if my child is ill?

All employees are entitled to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.  The right is to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off. This type of time off can be taken where, for instance, your childcare arrangements are unexpectedly disrupted, or someone who depends on you needs your assistance.

A “reasonable” amount of time off usually means, in this context, a day or two – enough time to make alternative arrangements.  If it isn’t possible, you’d usually be expected to move onto another form of leave, such as annual leave, or compassionate leave.

What about maternity, paternity and adoption leave, and flexible working?

Take a look around our website for more information on these types of leave for working parents.

Need more help?

If you need more help with the subjects covered here then do reach out to our expert online employment law solicitors.  You can email us at employment@qlaw.co.uk or call 03300 020 863

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