’s guide to unpaid parental leave looks at your rights to unpaid parental leave and emergency time off for dependents.

Childminder with child


It’s the summer holidays and often parents’ leave doesn’t stretch across those six weeks. One option can be to use unpaid parental leave. For many taking time off unpaid will not be possible, but for others it may work out cheaper than covering holiday childcare if you have more than one child and it means you keep your job. Here we outline how it and emergency time off for dependents works.

Parental Leave can be taken up to a child’s 18th birthday. After completing one year’s continuous service with an employer, an employee is entitled to 18 weeks unpaid Parental Leave for each child born or adopted. You can take this leave straight after the child is born or placed for adoption or following a period of maternity leave. You can apply to take Parental Leave as soon as you complete a year’s service.

In order to take Parental Leave you will need to make a request to your employer giving at least 21 days’ notice of the date on which you intend to start the leave. Your employer may ask for this notice to be given in writing. If you wish to take Parental Leave straight after your child is born or adopted, you should give notice 21 days before the beginning of the expected week of birth or placement. If this is not possible (i.e. if your child is born prematurely or you are given less than 21 days’ notice of placement) you should give notice to your employer as soon as possible.

Provided you give the correct notice to your employer and you qualify for Parental Leave, you should be able to take it at any time.

You should not take “odd” days off, unless your child is disabled or your employer agrees otherwise – Parental Leave should be taken in blocks or multiples of a week (based on your working pattern). You cannot take more than four weeks during any year.

Whilst you are on Parental Leave you will remain employed and some terms of your contract still apply, such as contractual notice and redundancy terms.

Emergency time off for dependents

This is a statutory regulation that allows an employee to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid leave in order to care for a child in case of emergency. ‘Reasonable’ is not defined in employment law. This unpaid leave is deemed to be available for short-term emergencies and also to enable the carer to arrange alternative childcare/care for the dependant.

Under section 57A of Employment Rights Act 1996 there are no limits on how many times you can take time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. However, the law is clear that you can’t have time off if you knew about the situation beforehand, for example, if one of your children had a doctor’s appointment that you knew about weeks in advance.

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