Parental leave

Employees with a minimum of one year’s service have the right to unpaid time off to look after children (up to the age of 18) that they have parental responsibility for.  

For information on maternity, paternity and adoption leave, click here 

Shared parental leave (SPL) and statutory shared parental leave (ShPP) are designed to give parents more flexibility if they are expecting a baby or adopting a child. Visit our guidance on shared parental leave for more information. 


To be eligible for parental leave, you must be: 

  • legally classed as an employee and;  
  • have worked for your employer for a year or more.  

You must also have parental responsibility for your child – meaning you must be named on one of the following documents: 

  • The child’s birth or adoption certificate. 
  • The child’s parental order, for surrogacy. 
  • A legal guardianship. 

For stepparents, you will be eligible for parental leave if agreed by both biological parents. 

Even if you are separated from the other parent, or do not live with your child(ren), you are still eligible for parental leave if you maintain parental responsibility. 

The self-employed, and workers e.g., an agency worker or contractor are not eligible for unpaid parental leave.  

Foster parents must have parental responsibility to be eligible. 

What qualifies as parental leave? 

There are many reasons a parent may take parental leave. Common situations where employees take parental leave include: 

  • Childcare during nursery/school holidays. 
  • To care for a child when they are sick. 
  • To attend nursery/school events e.g., parent evenings. 
  • To arrange childcare/settle them into new childcare arrangements. 
  • Visit elderly relatives with children you have parental responsibility for. 
  • To spend more time with children you have parental responsibility for. 
Am I legally entitled to parental leave?

If you are classed as an employee, you are legally entitled to parental leave for each child you have parental responsibility for.

If you are self-employed or a worker, then you are not legally entitled to parental leave. 

Will I be paid?

Typically, parental leave is unpaid.  

Some workplaces may offer paid parental leave – you should check your contract or staff handbook, or speak to your employer. 

How do I request parental leave? 

You must request parental leave with your employer 21 days or more before the date you want to start it.  

In the case of an emergency involving a child dependent, you can request compassionate, sick or annual leave. 

How long can I take off for parental leave?

If you are an employee entitled to 18 weeks’ parental leave for each child and adopted child (up to the age of 18) that you have parental responsibility for. 

You can only take off up to 4 weeks a year, per each child you have parental responsibility for. Your employer may agree to you taking more time off, if necessary, e.g., your child is involved in a serious accident. 

You must take parental leave in week blocks (a week being the length of time an employee normally works over a 7 day period).  

If your child has a disability, and you receive disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP), you are eligible to take parental leave more flexibly e.g., in days rather than in week blocks. 

I need more time off. What do I do?

If you have used up all 18 weeks of your parental leave, you will have to request compassionate, sick or annual leave to take any time off to look after your child(ren). 

Can my employer refuse a parental leave request?

Your employer cannot refuse or cancel parental leave. However, they can postpone requested parental leave if it will be disruptive to work.  

Parental leave can be postponed for up to 6 months of the original date you requested it for. 

Your employer must write to you within 7 days of your request and highlight why your request has been postponed, as well as suggest other dates you could take it.  

They must also ensure that any re-scheduled parental leave is taken before the child’s 18th birthday. 

Carrying over parental leave

Unlike annual leave, parental leave applies to each child, not to your individual job e.g., if you moved jobs and have used up 8 weeks’ parental leave with your previous employer, you can only use up to 10 weeks with your new employer, if eligible. 

If you need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.


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