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The likely re-emergence of Parental Leave

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By Anthony Wilcox

As the impact of Covid-19 on our daily lives reduces and steps are taken towards resuming normal working life, thoughts about topics such as managing family responsibilities and planning family holidays are starting to return to the agenda for many. Returning to the office over the summer holiday period creates its own issues, requiring costly childcare arrangements or reliance on help from family and friends. For those beginning to think about spending family time together, the limitations of annual leave can be felt. These, and many other such considerations, will likely see some parents opt to make use of a statutory employment right many have to a form of family leave called “Parental Leave”.

Parental Leave must not to be confused with Shared Parental Leave – the latter enables parents to share their Maternity/Adoption leave on the birth or adoption of their child. In contrast, Parental Leave is available to those who have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for a child.

To qualify for the right to take Parental Leave, the employee must have worked for their employer for a year. The qualifying parent can then take up to 18 weeks of leave per child up to the child’s 18th birthday. The right is granted per child and so a parent with two children has twice the entitlement, permitting up to 36 weeks of Parental Leave. When an employee moves job, any remaining entitlement to Parental Leave moves with them, but they must accrue one year's continuous employment with that new employer before the right can be exercised.

Parents who wish to take Parental Leave must give 21 days’ notice to their employer under the default scheme, unless the company has opted to vary this. The employer is prohibited from unreasonably postponing the period of Parental Leave and must not attempt to prevent the employee from taking it.

The parent can take up to 4 weeks of Parental Leave for each child in any one year. This leave must be taken in whole weeks unless the child is disabled or the employer agrees otherwise.

It is important to note that any Parental Leave taken is unpaid. This inevitably reduces the use made of the right. However, proposals are being discussed that could in the future see Parental Leave changed to provide a right to some form of payment – if this occurs, Parental Leave could become a much more commonly exercised right.

There are important legal protections associated with the right to take Parental Leave. It is unlawful for an employer to subject an employee to detriment or dismiss them for taking, or seeking to exercise their right to take, Parental Leave. Employers must take care to avoid inadvertently breaching these protections. For example, employers must not take Parental Leave into account when measuring absence during a redundancy selection process or when managing unsatisfactory attendance. Additionally, in some instances actions taken by an employer can also constitute sex discrimination.

Legislation provides a range of statutory leave rights apart from Parental Leave. We are regularly asked to advise both employees and employers on such rights, as well as the associated protections. If you would like advice on any such issues, our employment team have the knowledge and experience to assist you.

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