Parental Leave

Site updated on February 17, 2020

Parental leave was introduced in 1999 as part of the Government’s family friendly approach to employment policies. The introduction of some form of parental leave was required to comply with the European Parental Leave Directive.

As a result of the introduction of these regulations employees (both male and female) now enjoy two statutory rights:-

  • the right to take time off work to look after a child or to make arrangements for a child’s welfare. (Parental Leave).Eligible employees can take unpaid parental leave to look after their child’s welfare, eg to:
    • spend more time with their children
    • look at new schools
    • settle children into new childcare arrangements
  • the right to a short amount of time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. (Dependant Leave – see below for details)

Parental Leave

You need a years service as an employee and you need to be the parent or adoptive parent of the child.  Until April 2015 the child needed  to be aged under five years of age – this is no longer the case.

From April 2015, Parental Leave is available for any child aged under 18.

Your Employer is entitled to ask you for reasonable proof of your right to request this type of leave. Check your Company Handbook for a Policy on Parental Leave.

Some points to note:

  • Parental leave is unpaid, unless your Employer has a policy providing for some paid leave
  • The total amount of leave available is now 18 weeks, per parent and per child.
  • The maximum amount that you can take in any one year is 4 weeks, unless your Employer agrees that you can take longer.
  • The leave has to be taken in blocks of one week; you cannot take single days off  – unless the child has a disability or your employer agrees this.  ( In this respect “disabled” means that the family receive a disability living allowance for the child).
  • Untaken parental leave carries over to your new job if you change employers – but you will need a years service with the new business before being eligible.
  • You must request Parental Leave in writing, at least 21 days before the time off is required.
  • Your Employer can refuse the request for time off, but only when your absence is likely to cause serious disruption to the business. Your Employer must suggest an alternative date for any leave, which must be within 6 months.

Dependant Leave

A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on you for care. Dependant leave is normally unpaid, but check your Contract or Company Handbook for further information.

No service is required for this leave; it applies from your first day at work.

You’re allowed a reasonable amount of time off to deal with the emergency, but there’s no set amount of time as it depends on the situation. It is time off to deal with an unexpected problem and to give you time to make plans to provide cover if it is a longer term problem. Two or three days would be reasonable.

You do not qualify for Dependant time off if you knew about a situation well beforehand. For example you may not be covered if you wanted to take your child to hospital for a planned appointment; or there is a teachers strike at the children’s school.

You would qualify for this if the school is closed unexpectedly by bad weather at short notice though.

If your child falls ill you could take dependant time off to go to the doctor and make care arrangements.

If you aren’t given time off for dependants, your employer may allow you ‘compassionate leave’ – this may be paid or unpaid leave for emergency situations – it depends on the employer.

Check your employment contract, company handbook or intranet for details about compassionate leave.


For more information on any of these issues, do contact our Advice Line for support and guidance.

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