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Protecting the rights of working parents is an important chunk of employment law, designed to help parents balance work and family life. As an employer, you’ll need to understand the ins and outs of the different types of leave that parents are entitled to take, eligibility criteria, and your statutory obligations.

Not only will this keep you on the right side of the law, but it also helps build a feeling of support and fairness among your team. Unsure where to start? We’ve put together this guide on all things parental leave to give you a few pointers.

What’s the difference between ‘leave’ and ‘pay’?

We often use the term ‘leave’ and ‘pay’ to mean the same thing but there’s actually a difference between the two. For example:

  • Maternity leave refers to the time off work that a mother takes around the birth of her child. The idea is that it gives her time to recover from the birth and bond with the new baby.
  • Maternity pay, on the other hand, is the financial compensation that’s paid to the mother during her maternity leave period. It might consist of Statutory Maternity Pay, employer discretionary pay, or insurance.

Basically, while the leave a parent can take offers job protection and time off from work, parental pay helps to mitigate the financial pressure that taking this time off can bring.

What types of leave can parents take?

UK employees are entitled to different types of leave relating to their children, depending on their circumstances, including:

  • Parental leave
  • Maternity leave
  • Paternity leave
  • Adoption leave
  • Shared parental leave (SPL)
  • Parental Bereavement Leave

Employers can choose to allow additional leave at their own discretion.

What is parental leave?

Employees who are parents have the right to take time off if they need to look after their children. Stepparents are also entitled to take parental leave as long as this is agreed between all of the child’s parents. Eligible employees can take up to 18 weeks of parental leave for each child, up to a maximum of 4 weeks (per child) in a year.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave is offered to birth mothers and generally lasts for up to 52 weeks. It’s divided into two periods:

  • Ordinary Maternity Leave (first 26 weeks)
  • Additional Maternity Leave (remaining 26 weeks)

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) may be paid to eligible employees during this period.

Paternity leave

Paternity leave is available to fathers or partners of the birth mother and lasts for up to 2 weeks. Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) may be offered to eligible employees during this period.

From 8th March 2024, fathers and partners will be able to divide their statutory paternity leave into one-week blocks rather than taking it all at once – although this will only apply to babies with a due date after 6th April.

Adoption leave

Adoption leave lasts for up to 52 weeks and is given to employees who adopt a child. Similar to maternity leave, adoption leave is divided into Ordinary Adoption Leave and Additional Adoption Leave.

Shared parental leave (SPL)

Shared Parental Leave allows eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after the birth or adoption of a child. Employees can opt for a flexible pattern of leave, as long as they meet certain notification requirements.

Parental Bereavement Leave (PBL)

Employees are entitled to take Parental Bereavement Leave if their child dies or is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. PBL allows parents to take up to 2 weeks’ leave, although a week is the equivalent number of days they would normally work in a week. For example, if your employee normally works 2 days per week, a ‘week’ is those two days.

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Which employees can take time off for parental reasons?

  • Maternity leave: Available to all pregnant employees, regardless of how long they’ve worked for the organisation.
  • Paternity leave: Available to employees who have at least 26 weeks of continuous service by the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is expected to be born.
  • Shared Parental Leave: This should be offered to parents who share responsibility for the child and meet specific eligibility criteria regarding employment and earnings.
  • Adoption Leave: Adoption leave is for employees who are adopting a child, subject to certain criteria and notification requirements. There’s more information about this on the adoption pay and leave page of the website.

What needs to happen when an employee wants to take parental leave?

Employees must tell their employer that they want to take parental leave and submit the right documentation. For example, this would be a MATB1 form for maternity leave. In turn, employers will need to give employees written confirmation of their entitlement to parental leave, including the start and end dates of the leave period.

Remember to always keep accurate records of parental leave taken by your employees, including dates and duration. This will really help your business stay compliant, as well as keeping your payroll accurate.

What about employees returning to work?

You want to make sure the transition back into work is as smooth as it can be for your employees. Do they need to return on a part-time basis or with more flexible hours? Would a remote or hybrid working model be best?

Obviously, you need to balance the needs of your employees with the needs of the business. But carrying out return-to-work interviews to discuss any adjustments or concerns they may have can help solve any problems early on.

What other things should employers think about when it comes to parental leave?

As a caring employer you want to create a supportive workplace culture that values work-life balance, supports mental health, and gives equal opportunities for everyone in your team.

The big one here is to avoid any discrimination. Your parental leave policy should be really fair and inclusive so that it treats all employees equally regardless of gender, sexual orientation, marital status or any other protected characteristic.

It’s also worth regularly reviewing and updating your parental leave policy so that it keeps up with current legislation and best practices.

Additionally, think about how your leave policies are communicated with employees. Their parental leave entitlements, rights and responsibilities should be written down and regularly circulated. It’s also a good idea to offer additional support to employees during their parental leave, such as access to counselling services or parental support groups. Above all, keep the lines of communication well and truly open!

Learn more about our online accounting services for businesses. Call 020 3355 4047 to chat to the team or get an instant online quote.

About The Author

Suzanne Goodier-Dodson

I'm a Senior Payroll Clerk with a degree in Mathematics, responsible for overseeing every aspect of payroll for our clients. In my spare time, I love to travel and going to gigs. Read my Staff Spotlight.

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