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What You Should Know about Parental Leave Rights

Parental leave can be a complex area, with a range of different entitlements, notice and qualifying periods, statutory payments and eligibility criteria to get your head around.

There are five main leave types for employers to be aware of: maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental, and parental bereavement leave.  In this blog, we highlight the key elements of each below.

Maternity Leave

Maternity leave applies to employees who are pregnant. For staff members to qualify for the entitlement, they need to be defined as an employee and provide 15 weeks’ notice (or more) before the baby’s due date of their intention to take leave. It doesn’t matter how long you have employed the staff member; as long as they meet the above requirement, they are entitled to the leave.

How much leave are employees entitled to? All pregnant employees are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks of maternity leave, made up of 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. The employee may decide not to take all their leave entitlement; however, the first two weeks (four weeks for factory workers) after the child’s birth is compulsory.

To qualify for statutory maternity pay, employees must:

  • earn on average at least £123 a week
  • provide 15 weeks’ notice period (or more) and proof they are pregnant
  • have worked for your organisation continuously for at least 26 weeks, continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. Staff members will get the following:

  • 90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
  • £156.66* or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

As with all of the statutory payments discussed within this blog, employers may decide to offer enhanced pay as a benefit to employees.  If you wish to do so, we recommend drafting a clear policy to set out the provisions for this.

Paternity Leave

The intention of paternity leave, is to allow an employee to be absent from work for the purpose of caring for a child or supporting the child’s mother. To qualify for paternity leave, staff need to have the following: continuous employment for 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the baby’s due and have the status of an employee, and to be the baby’s biological father or the partner of the mother or person who has (or expects to have) responsibility for the baby’s upbringing.

If colleagues meet the requirements, they can choose to take either one or two weeks of leave. It is worth noting that the leave must be taken as one whole lump.

To qualify for statutory paternity pay, employees must:

  • be employed by you up to the date of birth
  • earn at least £123 a week (before tax)
  • give the correct notice
  • have been continuously employed by you for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’

The ‘qualifying week’ is the 15th week before the baby is due.

At the time of publishing, if colleagues are eligible for statutory paternity pay, they will receive £156.66 per week* or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

Adoption Leave

Statutory adoption leave and pay in the UK are broadly in line with statutory maternity leave and pay, making things a little easier. As with maternity leave, employees are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks of leave made up of 26 weeks’ ordinary adoption leave and 26 weeks of additional adoption leave, although there is no equivalent of compulsory maternity leave. What are the qualifying criteria for adoption leave? Staff members must:

  • be legally classed as an employee
  • provide you with the correct notice (seven days of being matched with a child or for adoption your adoption placement being confirmed)
  • give proof that they’re adopting or fostering to adopt
  • have been matched with a child through an adoption agency.

It is good to note that only one person in a couple can take adoption leave; this person will be the primary carer for the child or children and does not have to be female. The other partner could get paternity leave instead (that person does not have to be male).

To get statutory adoption pay, employees must:

  • have been continuously employed by you for at least 26 weeks by the week they were matched with a child
  • earn on average at least £123 a week (before tax)
  • give the correct notice
  • give proof of the adoption or surrogacy.

Statutory adoption pay is payable for a total of 39 weeks and is the same as maternity pay.

Shared Parental Leave

If you have made it this far, you’ve done well! The rules surrounding shared parental leave are complex, so much so we could write a whole blog just for them. In essence, employees may be entitled to Shared Parental Leave and Pay (ShPP) if they are:

  • having a baby
  • using a surrogate to have a baby
  • adopting a child
  • fostering a child who they are planning to adopt.

Couples can share up to 50 weeks (off work together or staggered) of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. Pay and leave in the first year after the child is born or placed with their family will need to be shared between the couple. Colleagues can use SPL to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work.

ShPP is paid at the rate of £156.66* a week or 90% of staff’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. For further information, head to the Government’s website or get in touch with the ViewHR team.

Parental Bereavement Leave

We have recently written a post about parental bereavement leave and the sad circumstances when this may apply. You can find it by going to the Dorset Mind website here.

On the whole, whichever type of parental leave your employees plan to take, you should remember to communicate with staff. Work together before leave is taken and continue to treat them like employees while on leave – keep them in the loop about vacancies, essential updates, and ensure they are not treated detrimentally.

Although not technically just a form of parental leave, it is worth remembering that employees are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off to deal with emergencies involving a dependant, which may include childcare arrangements falling through at the last minute, or an unwell child.

If you need any more help with parental leave, feel free to contact a member of the View HR team for more information and support.

*Correct at the time of publishing.