Employers should be aware that the amount of unpaid parental leave that can be taken by parents in relation to each child under five years of age (or, in the case of an adopted child, in the five years after the placement) increased from 13 weeks to 18 weeks from 8 March 2013, says Shaun Underhill, a Partner at Shentons Solicitors, based in Winchester. Parents of children who qualify for Disability Living Allowance are also entitled to 18 weeks’ parental leave up until the child’s 18th birthday.
Shaun explains that, to qualify for parental leave, an employee must have worked for their employer for more than one year. Where an employee has more than one child, he or she has the right to take unpaid parental leave in respect of each child but the limit on how much parental leave an employee can take in any one year is 4 weeks, unless the employer agrees otherwise. Also, unless an employer agrees otherwise or the child is disabled, parental leave should be taken in blocks of one week.
An employee’s employment rights, such as the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job, are protected during parental leave.
Parental leave is intended to give parents the chance to spend more time with their children, so that they can, for example, sort out new childcare arrangements, look at new schools, visit family etc. It is separate from the Government’s plan to introduce a system of ‘shared parental leave’ This will enable parents to share caring responsibilities after the birth of their child and is due to come into force in 2015.