Parental Leave

Last updated: 17 Aug 2021

Parental leave was introduced to give parents the right to take time off work to look after their child. Parents can use it to spend more time with children and strike a better balance between their work and family commitments.

Parental leave is a form of statutory family leave, like maternity leave or shared parental leave – but it can be taken anytime before your child turns 18. The leave is unpaid, unless that is a perk in your employment. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to claim financial support.

This article sets out the statutory rules for taking parental leave. You should check your contract and/or employer policy for more generous terms than the statutory minimum.

Eligibility for parental leave

To be eligible for parental leave you must:

  • Be an employee.
  • Have or expect to have parental responsibility for a child under 18
  • Have worked for your employer for at least one year.

Parental leave is available to those who have parental responsibility for children up to 18 years old, regardless of whether they are adopted or birth children. If you are a kinship or foster carer, see our article on time off work for grandparents and kinship carers.

How much parental leave can I take?

Each parent can take up to 18 weeks of parental leave in total for each child, until the child turns 18. If you have two children, you can take up to 36 weeks in total. Parents with three children can take up to 54 weeks. And so on.

You can take up to 4 weeks per child per year. If you have two children, you can take up to 8 weeks per year.

You have to take parental leave in blocks of one week. A week is the length of time you are normally required to work over 7 days. For instance, if you normally work three days a week, one ‘week’ is equivalent to three workign days.

If your child is on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you can take parental leave one day at a time.

Parental leave applies to each child and not to an individual’s job. Therefore, you ‘carry over’ any unused parental leave from one employer to another, as long as you are eligible.

What if my working days vary?

If you work a different number of days per week or if you’re required to work some weeks of the year but not other, to work out your parental leave entitlement you need to calculate an average working week. To do so, you divide the total periods for which you are normally required to work in a year by 52.

For instance, if you work Monday to Thursday during term time (40 weeks), and on Mondays and Wednesdays during the school holidays (12 weeks), you would work out your entitlement as follows:

Total of annual work periods (in days):
Term time: 40 x 4 = 160;
Working during school holidays: 12 x 2 = 24
Total = 184 days
Average per week: 184 / 52 = 3.53

So, for you, one week’s parental leave amounts to 3.53 days. The default scheme entitlement of up to 4 weeks in any year would equate to 14.15 days which, during term time, would allow you 3 calendar weeks plus 2 days of the fourth week. During the school holidays, it would equate to 7 calendar weeks.

How do I book parental leave?

You must notify your employer of your intention to take parental leave at least 21 days in advance. It is advisable to include the start and the end dates on which you wish to take the leave and set out your request in writing.

You may be asked to provide documentation to confirm that you are the parent or the person legally responsible for a child. This evidence can include:

  • your responsibility or expected responsibility for the child such as birth certificate, adoption or matching certificate, parental responsibility agreement or court order.
  • the child’s date of birth or date of adoption placement.

See below for a sample letter to request parental leave.

Sample letter to request parental leave

Dear [EMPLOYER],

I am writing to you to request a period of parental leave. I have outlined further details in respect of my request below for your consideration.

I confirm that I satisfy the eligibility criteria in that I:

  1. have at least one year’s continuous employment – my start date is [insert date];
  2. have [or expect to have] responsibility for a child; and
  3. will take the leave to spend time with/care for the child.

I also confirm that my child is under the age of 18.

[I have not taken any parental leave whilst working for another employer.] OR [I have taken [insert number] of weeks’ parental leave whilst working for a former employer.]

I am requesting to take [insert number up to a maximum of four weeks] parental leave to start on [insert start date] and end on [insert end date].

[Note – the date of the request must be at least 21 days before the requested start date. A maximum of four weeks can be taken per year. If your child is disabled you can take it in blocks of days.]

I have enclosed documentation to confirm that I am the parent or the person legally responsible for my child.

[Note – This evidence can include:

(a)        a birth certificate, adoption or matching certificate, parental responsibility agreement or court order.

(b)        the child’s date of birth or date of adoption placement.]

Yours sincerely

[Employee]

Can my employer refuse to let me go on parental leave?

Your employer cannot refuse to let you go on parental leave. However, they can postpone your leave for up to six months where the business would be particularly disrupted if the leave were taken at the time requested.

If you are taking the leave immediately after the birth of your child (or placement of your child in your family for adoption), your employer cannot postpone your leave. In addition, the leave cannot be postponed beyond the child’s 18th birthday.

Employers are required to follow a specific procedure if they want to postpone your parental leave. First, they must consult with you over the dates to which they want to postpone leave. They must also give you notice of the postponement in writing (no later than seven days after you gave notice to take parental leave) stating the reason for the postponement and the new beginning and end dates of the period of leave.

The length of the new period of leave should be the same as your original request. Employers cannot reduce your leave, or split it up into two or more shorter periods, or postpone a period of leave that had already been postponed once.

Your rights during parental leave

When you are on parental leave leave you continue to benefit from the terms and conditions of your employment except pay. Your continuity of employer is not disrupted. You will continue to accrue your statutory holiday. But if your employer usually gives extra holiday on top of the statutory holiday, you may not accrue these extra days during Parental Leave – it depends on what your employment contract says. You are also entitled to your notice period if you are being dismissed.

During parental leave, you remain bound by most of your contractual obligations, including your obligation of good faith to your employer or confidentiality. If your contract says you cannot work for another employer, this continues to be the case during parental leave.

You cannot “be punished” because you have taken or have tried to take parental leave. You are legally protected from dismissal, detrimental treatment and victimisation for taking parental leave. If you believe you have a claim for detrimental treatment, you should seek advice and follow the steps in our article on what to do if you are having problems at work.

What happens when I come back to work?

At the end of parental leave, you have a right to return to the same job if you took four weeks or less of leave.

If more than four weeks was taken (or if you took a shorter period of leave but immediately after additional maternity leave), you are entitled to return to the same job or if that is not reasonably practicable, to a similar job which has the same or better status terms and conditions as your old job. For more information, see our article on returning to work at the end of maternity leave.

Your continuity of employment will not be affected.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some of the most common questions we receive on our helpline about parental leave.

I have two children but my employer says I can only take 4 weeks of parental leave this year

Each parent may take up to 4 weeks of parental leave in any one year per child (and 18 weeks in total for each child). Therefore, if you have 2 children that are under 18 years old, you can take up to 8 weeks per year and 36 weeks in total.

It might be the case that your employer doesn’t understand the statutory rules on parental leave. You should speak to your employer, and remind them that the statutory minimum is 4 weeks per child per year. You may wish to draw your employer’s attention to the information on the government website.

If your employer does not allow you to take your full entitlement to parental leave and you have given the correct notice, you may have claims and you should seek advice and follow the steps in our article on what to do if you are having problems at work.

My employer has refused my request and says I can only take parental leave one week at a time

Parental leave must be taken in blocks of one week, but there is no requirement that the leave be taken only one week at a time. You have a right to take up to 4 weeks per child per year continuously, as long as your give the correct notice.

It might be the case that your employer doesn’t understand the statutory rules on parental leave. You should speak to your employer, and remind them that the statutory scheme allows you to take the leave continuously. You may wish to draw your employer’s attention to the information on the government website.

If your employer does not allow you to take your full entitlement to parental leave and you have given the correct notice, you may have claims and you should seek advice and follow the steps in our article on what to do if you are having problems at work.

My employer refused my parental leave request

If your employer does not allow you to take parental leave, and you are eligible and have given the correct notice, you may have claims and you should seek advice and follow the steps in our article on what to do if you are having problems at work.

I took parental leave, but my employer has reduced my annual leave allowance

Unlike non-statutory periods of unpaid leave or a sabbatical, you continue to accrue annual leave during periods of parental leave. All workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday inclusive of bank holidays in any leave year. Where an employer grants employees the minimum holiday entitlement, you will continue to accrue holidays during periods.

If there was a bank holiday during your period of parental leave, a day off in lieu would have to be granted. If your employer grants paid time off on bank holidays in addition to the statutory minimum, then the right to a day off in lieu will depend on the terms of the contract of employment or employer policy. It may be that a right to time off or pay in lieu for bank holidays exists impliedly as a result of custom and practice, even if it is not written down in any company documentation.

If your employer does not allow you to take your full entitlement to annual leave, you may have claims and you should seek advice and follow the steps in our article on what to do if you are having problems at work.

My employer has a parental leave policy that allows them to split up periods of leave

Employers can implement their own parental leave schemes. Usually, these schemes are more generous than the statutory minimum.

You employer’s scheme cannot be less favourable than the statutory minimum. If they want to implement the scheme in a way that is less favourable (e.g., they want to have the right to require employees to split up periods of leave), they can only do so with a collective agreement or workforce agreement. There must also be a provision in your contract that has an entitlement to absence from work for childcare purposes, and refers to the collective or workforce agreement.

If your employer has changed the default scheme through a collective or workforce agreement, then you should check the provisions of the agreement carefully. You can also speak to your union or workforce representative for further advice and support, or contact our helpline.

I booked a period of parental leave, but I don’t need to take it anymore. Can I cancel it?

Unfortunately, the Regulations do not address the question of an employee cancelling or altering the dates of unpaid parental leave. However, based on a 2008 case, it was held that employers must allow employees the right to alter the dates of pre-arranged unpaid parental leave in order to take maternity leave, a separate statutory right (Kiiski v Tampereen Kaupunki). Therefore, applying the same principles here, if the reason for altering or cancelling the leave is to benefit from a separate statutory right, then qualifying employees should be entitled to request the changes to their pre-arranged parental leave.

In other circumstances, if the employment contract between the parties is silent on this point and/or no information is contained in the employer’s parental leave policy, then the best approach would be for the employer and the employee to reach an agreement.

You may be able to make some arguments that your employer should cancel your booked leave – in particular, that you no longer need the leave to care for your child or children. The purpose of parental leave is to give parents time off to look after their child’s welfare – for instance, to spend more time with children. You cannot take parental leave for another purpose.

If your circumstances have changed, and you no longer need to take leave to look after your children, you would technically be ineligible to take parental leave. If this applies to you, we recommend that you inform your employer that your circumstances have changed and that you are now ineligible to take the parental leave that you have booked.

You can also state that you are ready and able to work during those time periods, and that under the implied duty of trust and confidence (which is an implied term in every employment contract), your employer should not force you to take unpaid leave and you would like to return to work.

If I can take 4 weeks of parental leave in a year, when does the year start and end?

Under the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations, you cannot take more than 4 weeks’ leave per child in any particular year.

A year for this purpose is defined as the period of 12 months beginning on the date that you first became entitled to take Parental Leave from your employer. This would be one year after you started working for your employer (because you become entitled to take Parental Leave once you have one years’ service with your employer). Each year for the purpose of taking Parental Leave begins on the anniversary of this date.

For instance, if you started working for your employer on 1 January 2020, you would become entitled to take parental leave from 1 January 2021. Your ‘years’ for taking Parental Leave would run from 1 January to 31 December 2021, 1 January to 31 December 2022, and so on.

If you leave your employer and start working with a new employer, the year would reset and begin again when you become entitled to Parental Leave with your new employer.


This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.