Parental leave and time off for dependants

25th April 2018

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.

If you are a parent, you may have the right to take unpaid leave to care for 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.

you will not normally be allowed to take more than four weeks of parental leave each year.

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.

‘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.

Compassionate leave is a term used to describe time off following the death of a loved one.

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 post about rights at work.

Your rights at work

The closure of the workplace childcare voucher scheme: what you need to know

On Thursday 4 October 2018 the government will close the childcare voucher scheme to new entrants; here’s what you need to know.

October 2018 Learn more
How to avoid workplace discrimination in your business

Businesses must do all they can to prevent discrimination in the workplace and being up-to-date with equality law is essential.

April 2018 Learn more
Maternity leave – what expectant mothers are entitled to

Expectant mothers should be aware of their rights relating to maternity leave, maternity pay and any other issues likely to affect their employment situation due to their pregnancy.

April 2018 Learn more

Read more from the DAS Law blog

Employment disputes , Growing your business , Protecting your business , Setting up a business Farming tenancies: what you need to know

Mark Woodman, Solicitor at DAS Law, looks at what farmers need to know regarding a Farm Business Tenancy.

June 2021
Employment disputes , Protecting your business How to keep your staff and customers safe when re-opening your business

As the country continues taking steps toward a return to normal, Covid restrictions remain in place in order to allow the reopening process to be conducted as safely as possible.

June 2021
Employment disputes Covid-19: Is your business worried about eviction?

The Covid-19 crisis has seen an unprecedented number of businesses facing collapse. But what happens if your business has an opportunity to get back on its feet only to face eviction from the landlord?

May 2021
Employment disputes , Protecting your business The return to work: a guide for employers

Molly-Ellen Turecek looks at what employers need to consider when returning employees to work.

May 2021
Employment disputes Can employees refuse to return to work if they feel unsafe?

Can an employee refuse to return to work due to fears of contracting Covid-19? Where does the law stand if employees decide to ‘take a stand’?

May 2021
Employment disputes Is there a time limit for providing an employee with a P45?

As an employer, you are required to tell HMRC when somebody leaves or retires, and deduct and pay the correct tax and National Insurance.

May 2021
Employment disputes , Protecting your business The Return to Work from Covid: How businesses can stay on the right side of the law

Although lockdown restrictions are easing for many businesses across the country, health & safety and social distancing measures still apply.

May 2021
Employment disputes What you need to know about the gig economy

Allison Lewis, Head of Employment at DAS Law, looks at what you need to know about the gig economy.

March 2021
Employment disputes Can employers insist employees have the Covid-19 vaccine?

A number of UK companies recently announced that they will insist that all their employees must have the Covid-19 vaccine if they wish to continue working for them.

February 2021
Employment disputes Redundancy: an employer’s guide

Simon Roberts and Molly-Ellen Turecek from DAS Law look at seven things an employer needs to know about redundancy.

January 2021
Employment disputes Dismissal and Redundancy: 7 things employees need to know

Molly-Ellen Turecek and Simon Roberts look at what an employee needs to know about redundancy.

January 2021
General advice , Employment disputes Beware the perils of sharing colleagues’ virtual Christmas party antics on social media

Just because the party is being held online, it should still be treated as an extension of the workplace with both employers and employees conducting themselves appropriately.

December 2020
Employment disputes International Stress Awareness Week: your workplace rights

To mark International Stress Awareness Week, Jade Harrison, legal adviser at DAS Law, takes a look at what the law says your employer needs to do about workplace stress

October 2020