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Parental Leave: Do you know your rights?

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For children the advent of the summer holidays promises a seemingly never-ending stretch of fun and freedom. For working parents it promises stress and a burning hole in the pocket. It is commonly known that childcare is becoming increasingly expensive. Alternatives such as holiday clubs and childminders are also costly. This leaves parents in a difficult position come the summer months and often they will have to rely on family and friends to “share the load”.

Parents are often unaware that they can take what is called “Parental Leave”. This is not to be confused with Shared Parental Leave which is a scheme allowing parents to share their Maternity/Paternity leave on the birth of their child. Parental Leave is available to birth and adoptive parents and also to anyone who has, or expects to have, parental responsibility for a child. In order to benefit from the leave you must have worked for your employer for a year. It affords parents 18 weeks per child up to their 18th birthday and is unpaid. So, if you have 2 children for example you can take a total of 36 weeks.

Parental Leave is useful for summer holidays but also can be useful for other things such as helping your child look at schools or simply spending quality time with them during the year. In cases of emergency such as ill health, parents can claim Time off for Dependents, a separate employment right.

The rules on Parental Leave state that you can take up to 4 weeks at one time. You must take the leave in weekly stints unless you have a disabled child or your employer agrees otherwise. If you work part time then your working week is reflected in the leave, so, for example, a parent who works 3 days per week will have 3 days off during their leave. Your leave entitlement remains with you when you move jobs so you won’t lose your entitlement. You must give 21 days' notice to your employer but companies can vary this if they so choose.

Despite the new legislation which has extended Parental Leave rights, few parents opt to take it. The fact that it is unpaid is obviously a disincentive; parents tend to work from home or request flexible working arrangements instead. In addition, parents fear that taking such leave will impact their career. However, the right to take parental leave is heavily protected. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 it is a statutory offence for an employer to subject an employee to a detriment, dismiss the employee, unreasonably postpone a requested period of parental leave or prevent or attempt to prevent the taking of parental leave. Parents can be assured therefore that they will not face discrimination should they decide to take advantage of the scheme.

Parental Leave is one of many protections afforded to parents or carers of children. If you would like advice on any issues relating to childcare or pregnancy get in touch with our Employment team who will be happy to advise.