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If you’re an employee and a parent, you’re entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave to look after your child, up to their 18th birthday.

The law provides this basic allowance of 18 weeks per child, but your employer may have a more generous agreement. Some may continue your pay, although they have no legal obligation to do this.

Parental leave must be taken in blocks of a week, unless your child is disabled, in which case you can take it in shorter blocks.

A maximum of four weeks’ leave can be taken in any one year, unless your employer has agreed something different, or unless your child is disabled, in which case you can decide when to take the 18-week allocation, up to their 18th birthday.

To qualify for parental leave, you must have ‘parental responsibility’ for the child. This includes adoptive parents and surrogate parents.

You shouldn’t suffer any unfavourable treatment because you’ve taken parental leave (e.g. a pay cut, harassment or a job downgrade) and your employer can’t unreasonably refuse or postpone your parental leave.

If any of that happens, you can complain to an employment tribunal. But the law around parental leave is complicated, so before taking action, you should get advice from your union rep or another qualified advisor.

Parental leave is different from ‘shared parental leave’, which allows maternity and adoption leave to be shared between parents.

Are you a rep? You can find more practical advice on a range of workplace issues in our support for reps section

What is parental leave?
The law allows working parents who are employees and who have worked for their current employer for at least 12 months, up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child up to the age of 18.
What happens to my conditions of service when I’m on parental leave?
During parental leave, you will still be an employee but your employer is not obliged to pay your wages during that time. Your statutory rights will not be affected and can accrue while you are on parental leave. However, your employer can suspend your contractual rights, such as any paid holiday over and above the statutory minimum.
I’m the parent of a disabled child. What are my rights to parental leave?
If your child is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, you're allowed to take this leave over chunks of time lasting less than one week – for example, on odd days. For children without a disability, the leave must be taken in one-week blocks.
Who counts as a ‘parent’ in order to be able to take parental leave?
Only parents, carers with 'parental responsibility' or who expect to get 'parental responsibility', and fathers who are registered on a child’s birth certificate are entitled to take parental leave for a child.
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