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Parental leave entitlements

What is parental leave and how long is it for? Find out about your rights with our guide to parental leave entitlements for mums and dads in the UK.

What is parental leave?

Parental leave allows the parents of children, up to the age of 18 years, to take up to 18 weeks per parent per child to look after or simply spend time with their child.

Parental leave is different from the right to ‘shared parental leave’. Parental leave is usually unpaid but some employers offer some paid parental leave.

Parental leave entitlement

There are some conditions you need to fulfil in order to receive parental leave.

  • You must be an employee and have at least one year’s continuous service with your employer. If you are self-employed or an independent worker (e.g. agency worker, contractor etc) then you are 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 are separated from your partner and don’t actually live with your child, you still have the right to parental leave, as long as you have kept parental responsibility.
  • If you are entitled to take parental leave but have been refused, talk to your employer or HR department about the reasons. If this doesn’t work you may need to make a complaint using your employer’s internal grievance procedure.

Your employer cannot refuse parental leave but they can postpone it for up to six months if it would cause undue disruption to the business. You are protected against dismissal and unfair treatment for taking or asking to take parental leave. If you feel you are being treated unfairly you should make a complaint using your employer’s internal grievance procedure. The organisations listed below can help you to resolve disputes at work.


You must give at least 21 days’ notice before you plan to take your parental leave, informing your employer of both the start and end date. However, you only have to give this notice in writing if requested by your employer.

Parental leave must usually be taken in blocks of a week.

Your employer may ask for evidence that you are entitled to parental leave. A birth certificate will usually do.

Statutory parental leave is unpaid, but check your employment contract and ask your employer if they have a parental leave policy. Your employer may offer you some form of paid parental leave or paid family leave. If you are on a low income you might get income support.

You are 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 you still have the right to return to the same job but your employer may offer you a suitable alternative job if they are not reasonably able to offer you the same job, for example, there has been a re-organisation.

Time off for dependents

Employees are entitled to emergency time off to care for a dependent. You should notify your employer as soon as possible that you need to take time off to deal with an emergency. There is no set amount of time off but you are expected to return to work as soon as you have made arrangements for the care of the dependent.

A dependent includes a:

  • Spouse/partner
  • Child/grandchild
  • Parent/grandparent or
  • Someone who depends on you for their care.

If you need time off to take a dependent to an appointment or for a planned hospital visit you cannot take time off for dependents because it is only for urgent, unforeseen emergencies such as when your child or your child’s carer is taken ill and you need to collect your child from school. You are only entitled to take as much time off as necessary in order to make arrangements for caring for your child. If you need to book time off you could take parental leave (above) or annual leave.

Time off for dependents is usually unpaid but your employer may offer some paid family or emergency leave.

You are protected against dismissal and unfair treatment for taking or asking to take time off for dependents. If you are treated unfairly you can make a complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure. The organisations listed below can help you resolve disputes at work.

Updated May 2016

Further information

ACAS advice on employment rights and Early Conciliation 0300 123 1100

Equality Advisory Support Service advice on discrimination and human rights 0808 800 0082

Gov.uk information on parental leave

Gov.uk information on time off for dependents

Call the Maternity Action helpline on 0845 600 8533 for information on maternity rights.

Working Families helpline: 0300 012 0312 or email: advice@workingfamilies.org.uk

Yesslaw: advice and help with resolving disputes at work 020 3701 7530/7531 or email info@yesslaw.org.uk