Parental leave and time off for emergencies: your rights

Employees can take time off work in the form of Parental Leave to look after a child’s welfare. This leave is usually unpaid and should not be confused with Shared Parental Leave which is about sharing leave after a baby is born.

Sick Child


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 e.g. if one of your children had a doctor’s appointment that you knew about weeks in advance.

Comments [4]

  • Bridget Hamilton says:

    Is there any help for childcare when myself and my Husband are key workers when the nursery our 3 year old attends is closing for 2 weeks due to a covid19 incident?
    We are literally on our own without friends or family who can help.
    Please let us know.

  • Karen Wood says:

    I am an NHS Keyworker and have a 14mth old. She has never been in nursery due to the cost. My 68yr old mother provides all of my childcare. I am really worried that if my mum was to catch the virus, I would have no choice but to take unpaid leave. I still cant afford nursery/childminders but cannot be without pay being a single parent. Is there any legislation that has been introduced to get around this due to coronavirus?
    Thanks so much and stay well everyone x

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      I know childcare campaigners are highlighting this issue. Have you checked out any support you can get for childcare through tax credits – you can check on your entitlement at They have an online benefits calculator. You could also talk to your local authority about childcare for key workers.

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