Unpaid leave in the UK is when an employee takes time off and has no legal right to be paid for it. An employer’s obligations to agree to unpaid leave and how much to give are quite blurry and can cause some confusion.
Reasons for taking unpaid leave
The reasons for taking a period of unpaid leave include:
- time off to look after dependants
- parental leave
- doctor or dentist appointments
- taking a career break
- compassionate leave
- study leave
- to carry out public duties such as jury service.
It’s important to note that paying employees for taking the above types of leave is down to each employer’s discretion. This means that although you’re not legally obliged to pay, you may decide that it’s best practice to pay employees for certain types of time off, i.e. when an employee attends a funeral or visits the doctor.
If you do decide to pay an employee for these types of time off, this should be detailed in your company’s employment policies.
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Unpaid leave law UK
There’s not much legislation surrounding unpaid leave in the UK, although the Employment Rights Act 1996 entitles eligible employees to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to care for a dependant. There’s no indication of what counts as a ‘reasonable’ amount of time, so again, it’s down to your discretion as an employer.
If you’re granting employees unpaid time off, it’s important that you assess each request on a case by case basis, but you should try to adopt the same stance consistently with all employees to avoid potential discrimination claims.
Unpaid leave benefits
Although at first glance unpaid leave may seem like a negative thing for your business, it could actually bring some benefits.
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 doesn’t hurt 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.
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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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