12th March 2013

Legal update: Increase to Parental Leave on 8 March 2013

On 8 March 2013 the amount of Parental Leave increased from 13 weeks to 18 weeks.

The Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/3312) give employees the right to unpaid Parental Leave. It is aimed at allowing employees leave from work for the purpose of caring for a child.

The right to Parental Leave only applies to employees who have been continuously employed for one year and who have, or expect to have, responsibility for a child. The 18 weeks leave is in respect of each child.

The leave can be taken up until the child’s 5th birthday, or up until the child’s 18th birthday if the child is entitled to disability allowance. Similar provisions apply for adopted children.

Employers need to be aware this right exists in case employee’s request to take leave, as employees can take a claim to the Employment Tribunal if the employer prevents or unreasonable postpones the leave. An employee is also protected from being subjected to detrimental treatment due to, for example, having requested parental leave. If an employee is dismissed because they took the leave, this would be an automatic unfair dismissal.

Employers can set out their own Parental Leave scheme provided it complies with the minimum requirements set out under the default scheme under the Regulations. In the default scheme, for example, an employee may take up to four weeks Parental Leave in each year and must take it in blocks of one week.

Employers should note that there are a variety of rights to time off and leave that employees, and some workers, could be entitled to. Those that are unpaid, like Parental Leave, are less popular for employees so it is unlikely that this increase will cause a problem for most employers.

Watch this space!: Look out for forthcoming changes which aim to share statutory maternity leave and pay with the father allowing parents to choose who stays at home to look after the baby. It is called ‘share parental leave’ and the Government is currently consulting on how this should work ( see  https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-administration-of-shared-parental-leave-and-pay ). It is planned to be introduced in 2015.