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Can you take time off work if your childcare falls through? And what if they get sick? Here’s how parental leave works...

What is parental leave?

If you’re working and you’re pregnant or you have kids already, you may be wondering what happens if there’s an emergency at home. It’s one thing taking a sick day for you but are you allowed to do that for someone else?

Actually yes – and not just in emergencies. Parental leave means that you can take up to 18 weeks (unpaid) per parent per child to look after or just spend more time with your child (, no date a; Working Families 2021).

Parental leave is different from the right to shared parental leave.

Parental leave conditions

There are some conditions you need to tick off to get parental leave:

  • You must be an employee and have at least one year’s constant service with your employer. If you’re self-employed or an independent worker (e.g. agency worker or contractor), then you’re not entitled to parental leave.
  • Your child must be under 18.
  • You must have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for the child.
  • If you don’t live with your child, you still have the right to parental leave if you have kept parental responsibility. You can find out more about parental responsibility at

(, no date a; Working Families 2021)

If you’re entitled to take parental leave but your boss has said no, talk to them (or your HR department if that’s easier) about the reasons. If this doesn’t work, you might need to make a complaint using your employer’s internal grievance procedure (, no date a; Working Families 2021).

Your employer can’t refuse parental leave but they can postpone it for up to six months if it would cause disruption to the business (, no date a; Working Families 2021).

How do I get parental leave?

You must give at least 21 days’ notice before your parental leave, and let your employer know the start and end dates. Ask them if they want the notice in writing too (, no date a; Working Families 2019).

Your parental leave must usually be taken in blocks of a week or the number of days you normally work in a week. So, if you work three days a week, one week of parental leave equals three days (, no date a; Working Families 2021).

Your employer may ask for evidence that you are entitled to parental leave. A birth certificate or parental responsibility agreement will usually be needed (, no date a).

You’re entitled to return to the same job after taking parental leave of four weeks or less. If you take parental leave of more than four weeks though, your employer can offer you a suitable alternative if, for example, there has been a re-organisation. (, no date b; Working Families 2021).

‘Time off for dependants’: what is it?

As well as parental leave, employees are entitled to emergency time off to care for a dependant. A dependant includes:

  • spouse/partner,
  • child/grandchild,
  • parent/grandparent or
  • someone else who depends on you for their care.

(, no date c)

You should let your boss know as soon as possible if you need to take leave. There’s no set amount of time off. However, you should head back to work as soon as you have made arrangements for the care of whoever it is you’re looking after (, no date c).

You’re only allowed to take this kind of time off for urgent, unforeseen emergencies, like when your child or their carer is taken ill and you need to pick them up from school (, no date). Even then, you’re only entitled to take as much time off as necessary to make alternative arrangements for them.

Importantly, you can’t have this type of time off if you knew about the situation beforehand, for instance, if your child has a hospital appointment. For this, you need to take parental leave (above) or annual leave (, no date).

Parental discrimination

You’re protected against dismissal and unfair treatment for taking or asking to take parental leave or time off for dependants (Acas 2020).

If you’re treated unfairly you can make a complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure (Acas 2020). The organisations listed below can help you resolve disputes at work too. So never feel as though you’re fighting anything alone.

Organisations that offer support: 

This page was last reviewed in March 2022.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

ACAS advice on employment rights and Early Conciliation 0300 123 1100

Equality Advisory Support Service advice on discrimination and human rights 0808 800 0082 information on parental leave information on time off for dependents

Call the Maternity Action helpline for information on maternity rights.

Working Families helpline: 0300 012 0312 or email:

Yesslaw: advice and help with resolving disputes at work 020 3701 7530/7531 or email

Acas (2020) Discrimination and the law. Available from: [Accessed 2nd March 2022] (no date a 2019b) Unpaid parental leave. Available from: [Accessed 2nd March 2022] (no date b 2019c) Employee rights when on leave. Available from: [Accessed 2nd March 2022] (no date c) Time off for family and dependants. Available from: [Accessed 2nd March 2022] 

Working Families. (20212019) Parental Leave. Available from: [Accessed 28th February 2022] 

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