In UK employment law, employees are entitled to unpaid leave in the following scenarios:
- emergency time off for dependents
- unpaid parental leave
- to carry out public duties such as jury service.
This means that if an employee wishes to take time off for any other reason, for a medical appointment or to attend a funeral of someone outside of their immediate family, this is at your discretion.
Unpaid parental leave
Employees with at least one years’ continuous service have a statutory right to take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave in respect of each child. Parents exercising this right must not be subjected to any detriment for doing so.
Parents are entitled to take unpaid parental leave if they:
- have at least one years’ continuous employment;
- have or expect to have responsibility for the child (i.e. biological or adoptive parent, or legal parental responsibility);
- are taking the leave to spend time with or otherwise care for the child; and
- have not exhausted their 18-week allowance in previous employment. The 18-week allowance carries over from employer to employer and does not reset with each new employment. For proof of how much unpaid leave has already been taken, you could request that the employee contacts their previous employers and asks them to confirm any periods of unpaid leave in writing.
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When can unpaid parental leave be taken?
Unpaid parental leave must be taken before the child’s 18th birthday and can only be taken in blocks of one or multiple weeks. Individual days can’t be taken.
A maximum of four weeks’ unpaid parental leave can be taken each year, per child.
Benefits of granting staff unpaid time off
Perhaps one of the most common reasons for staff requesting time off work is to attend medical appointments. While you’re not legally obliged to grant this, it can pay to be flexible. By accommodating the needs of staff to look after their physical and mental health, you’ll be creating a positive work culture where employees feel valued and well-treated.
The same goes for providing some flexibility around granting time off for other reasons, such as attending funerals. Preventing employees from doing so is very likely to sour the relationship you have with them.
If you are granting employees unpaid time off, it’s important that you can assess requests and their reasons on a case by case basis, but you should try to adopt the same stance consistently with all employees to avoid potential discrimination claims.
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If you have any questions about unpaid parental leave, or granting staff unpaid time off when they’re not legally entitled to it, our HR consultants can help.
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