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Parental Leave and Time Off for Dependants

If you have a child or other dependant, you might be entitled to take leave from your job if you need time off to look after them.

Most reasonable employers understand that, sometimes, you may need to take time off from work to care for children or vulnerable family members. In some cases, there are laws in place to ensure that you are able to do this when required - in other cases, you may have to rely on workplace policies or company customs.

Parental leave

If you are a parent, you may have the right to take unpaid leave to care for your children. You might use this time off to look for schools, visit relatives or simply spend time with your children.

The law says that you have the right to take parental leave if:

  • you have worked for your employer for over a year
  • your name is on the birth or adoption certificate of the child
  • you have parental responsibility, or expect to be granted it
  • you’re not self-employed, and are an employee rather than a worker

Employers may also choose to give the option of parental leave to people who do not meet all of these requirements, but they do not have to. Your employer may also ask you to prove that you are eligible if it is reasonable for them to request this.

For each child you have, you are allowed to take 18 weeks of parental leave in total. You must use this before their fifth birthday or you will lose it. If your child qualifies for Disability Living Allowance, the deadline for using your parental leave is extended to their 18th birthday. If your child is adopted, your parental leave may also extend up until their 18th birthday, but it must be used within five years of adopting them.

You will not normally be allowed to take more than four weeks of parental leave each year. You also have to take the time off in full weeks, unless your child qualifies for Disability Living Allowance. Your employer may choose to give you more flexibility with these two rules, however.

It is important to note that the amount of parental leave remaining follows you from job to job. If you use up a certain amount working for one employer, and then go to work elsewhere, the amount of parental leave you will get with your new employer is the same as the amount which remained in your previous job.

You should give your employer 21 days’ notice of any parental leave you wish to take, specifying the dates you want your time off to begin and end. It is possible for your employer to refuse your request for parental leave, but they cannot deny it outright – they must instead postpone it.

Your employer can only postpone your leave if they have good reason for doing so. They are not allowed to do this if the leave is planned to immediately follow the birth or adoption of the child in question, or if the delay would mean that your entitlement to parental leave expires.

If your time off is postponed, your employer must give you their reasons in writing within seven days of your request for leave. They must also suggest a new start date for a period of parental leave which is of equal length within six months of the starting date you wanted.

Time off for dependants

If you are an employee, you have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work if there is an emergency involving a dependant. ‘Dependant’ can mean a partner, child, grandchild, parent, or anyone else who depends on you in an important way.

The definition of ‘emergency’ here covers a variety of situations – it can be as serious as hospitalisation or as mundane as a childminder failing to show up. Essentially, this kind of time off can be taken if an unforeseen event occurs which means that you have to be present to care for a dependant.

Common causes for taking time off for dependants include:

  • Illness or injury – if your child has to be picked up from school due to sickness, for example, or an unwell relative’s condition worsens
  • Issues with care – for example, if a nursery catches fire or a carer fails to show up at a parent’s home
  • Emergencies at school – such as your child getting into serious trouble at school or being injured on a trip

Due to the nature of emergencies, you do not have to ask your employer for time off in writing or necessarily even warn them before leaving work. You should inform them of the situation as soon as possible, however.

Your employer does not have to pay you for time taken to care for dependants, though they may choose to. The amount of time you can take off varies on the basis of what is reasonable for the situation, and may not cover the aftermath of the emergency. For example, if your child needs to be picked up from school due to illness, this type of leave would cover that situation, but it would likely not allow you to look after them at home for the rest of the week. You will need to agree with your employer what would be a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off given the circumstances.

There are no set restrictions on how much time you can take off to care for dependants, but if your employer thinks that you are taking too much time off then they might want to discuss it with you.

Compassionate leave

Compassionate leave, also known as bereavement leave, is a term used to describe time off following the death of a loved one. The immediate aftermath of a death, including arranging and attending a funeral, will be covered by time off for dependants (see above). However, whether or not you are allowed to take some time to mourn your loss is your employer’s decision to make.

Many companies have compassionate leave policies, and if so, they are required to follow them. If they do not have a compassionate leave policy but have previously given other employees time off following the death of a loved one, they may also be required to do the same for you as they have established this as a rule by ‘custom and practice’. Further details about custom and practice are available on our page about rights at work.