Parental leave is the right to take time off work, paid or unpaid, to care for a child or make arrangements for the child's welfare. Often, the term parental leave includes maternity, paternity, and adoption leave.
In most western countries parental leave is available for those who have worked for their current employer for a certain period of time. In the UK, for instance, working mothers are given the right to 26 weeks of paid leave for each child, 6 weeks at 90% of full pay and 20 weeks at a fixed amount.
An example of generous parental leave is Sweden, where all working parents are entitled to 18 months' paid leave per child, the cost being shared between employer and State. To encourage greater paternal involvement in child-rearing, a minimum of 3 months out of the 18 is required to be used by the "minority" parent, in practice usually the father, and some Swedish political parties on the Left argue for legislation to oblige families to divide the 18 months equally between both parents. Norway also has similarly generous leave.
The system in Bulgaria is even more generous, providing mothers with 45 days 100% paid sick leave prior the due date, 2 years paid leave, and 1 additional year of unpaid leave. The employeer is obliged to restore the mother to the same position upon return to work. In addition, pregnant women and single mothers cannot be fired.
There is currently a push to expand paid maternity leave in countries such as Australia and the United States. In 2000, parental leave was greatly expanded in Canada from 10 weeks to 35 weeks divided between the two parents, which can be expanded to a year. In Canada parental leave is paid for by the Employment Insurance system.
Who can take parental leave?
Parental leave is available to employees who have, or expect to have, parental responsibility for a child. To be eligible, employees generally have to have one year's continuous service with their current employer. However, special rules apply for parents of children born, or placed for adoption, before 14 December 1999. They will be eligible for parental leave from their current employer if they completed one year's continuous service with another employer between 15 December 1998 and 9 January 2002.
How long does parental leave last?
Employees get 13 weeks in total for each child. Parents of disabled children get 18 weeks in total.
Employees will be able to take parental leave in short or long blocks depending on what has been agreed where they work, (for the purposes of parental leave a "disabled child" is one for whom an award of disability living allowance has been made).
What happens if an employee has twins?
Parental leave is for each child, so if twins are born each parent will get 13 weeks leave for each child (18 weeks for parents of each disabled child).
When can parental leave be taken?
As long as they give the correct notice to their employer, parents are able to take parental leave at any time up to the cut off point which applies to them:
Parents of children born between 15 December 1994 and 14 December 1999 can take leave up to 31 March 2005
Parents of children born on or after 15 December 1999 can take leave up to their child's 5th birthday
Adoptive parents of children placed for adoption between 15 December 1994 and 14 December 1999 can take leave up to 31 March 2005 (or the child's 18th birthday if that is sooner)
Adoptive parents of children placed for adoption on or after 15 December 1999 can take leave up to the fifth anniversary of the date of placement (or the child's 18th birthday if that is sooner)
Parents of disabled children from any of these categories can take leave up to their child's 18th birthday
Will employees be able to return to the same job after parental leave?
At the end of parental leave, an employee is guaranteed the right to return to the same job as before if the leave was for a period of four weeks or less; if it was for a longer period the employee is entitled to return to the same job, or, if that is not reasonably practicable, a similar job which has the same or better status, terms and conditions as the old job.
When parental leave follows maternity leave, the general rule is that a woman is entitled to return to the same job she had before the leave. If at the end of additional maternity leave, this would not have been reasonably practicable, and it is still not reasonably practicable at the end of parental leave, she is entitled to return to a similar job which has the same or better status, terms and conditions as the old job.
What procedures have to be followed before an employee can take parental leave?
Employers and employees can agree their own procedures for taking parental leave. They can do this by using workforce or collective agreements or through individual arrangements. Any of these agreements will apply to an employee only if it is part of the employee's contract of employment.
What happens if there is no agreement?
There is a fallback scheme which will apply automatically where employers and their employees have no other agreement operating.
What happens under the fallback scheme?
Under the fallback scheme the following provisions will apply:
- in most cases, leave must be taken in blocks or multiples of one week;
- the exception to the above is that parents of disabled children can take leave in blocks or multiples of one day;
in all cases a maximum of four weeks' parental leave in a year can be taken in respect of any individual child;
21 days' notice must be given;
- the employer can postpone the leave for up to six months where the business would be particularly disrupted if the leave were taken at the time requested;
- but leave cannot be postponed when the employee gives notice to take it immediately after the time the child is born or is placed with the family for adoption.
What is the procedure for postponing leave under the fallback scheme?
If an employer considers that an employee's absence would unduly disrupt the business, then the employer can postpone the leave for no longer than six months after the beginning of the period that the employee originally wanted to start his or her parental leave. The employer should discuss the matter with the employee and confirm the postponement arrangements in writing no later than seven days after the employee's notice to take leave. The employer's notice should state the reason for the postponement and set out the new dates of parental leave. The length of the leave should be equivalent to the employee's original request.
Under what circumstances can an employer postpone leave in the fallback scheme?
Employers may be justified in postponing leave when, for example, the work is at a seasonal peak; where a significant proportion of the workforce applies for parental leave at the same time; or, when the employee's role is such that his or her absence at a particular time would unduly harm the business.
Can leave be postponed under the fallback scheme if an employee wants to take leave immediately after the birth or adoption of a child?
When an employee applies to take parental leave immediately after the birth or adoption of a child, then the employer cannot postpone the leave. The employee needs to give 21 days' notice before the beginning of the expected week of childbirth (expectant mothers will be able to provide this information to their partners). In the case of adoption, the employee needs to give 21 days' notice of the expected week of placement. In rare cases where this is not possible, an adoptive parent should give the notice as soon as is reasonably practicable.
Do employers need to keep records?
Employers are not required to keep records of parental leave taken, although many will want to do so for their own purposes. When an employee changes jobs, employers will be free to make enquiries of a previous employer or seek a declaration from the employee about how much parental leave he or she has taken.
Can employers ask for evidence that the employee is entitled to parental leave?
An employer can ask to see evidence to confirm the employee is the parent or the person who is legally responsible for the child; evidence might take the form of information contained in the child's birth certificate, papers confirming a child's adoption or the date of placement in adoption cases, or in the case of a disabled child, the award of disability living allowance for the child. The employer's request must be reasonable; it may not be reasonable for him to check on the employee's entitlement on every occasion on which leave is asked for.
What if an employer refuses to allow an employee to take parental leave?
Employees will have the right to go to an employment tribunal if the employer prevents or attempts to prevent them from taking parental leave. An employee who takes parental leave will also be protected from victimisation, including dismissal, for taking it.
Employees have the right to take time off work to deal with a family emergency, giving all employees the right to take a reasonable period of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, such as a child, and not to be dismissed or victimised for doing so.
All pregnant employees are entitled to 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave. Employees who have completed 26 weeks service at the beginning of the 14th week before their baby is due will also qualify for a further 26 weeks' additional maternity leave.
Employed fathers who have completed 26 weeks' service at the beginning of the 14th week before their baby is due may be able to take one or two weeks' paternity leave around the time their baby is born.
Employed adopters who have completed 26 weeks' service by the time they are notified of having been matched with a child may be able to take 52 weeks' adoption leave around the time the child is placed with them.
Employed parents of children aged under six, or disabled children under 18 have the right to apply to work flexibly. Their employers have a duty to consider such requests seriously.