A guide to statutory leave entitlement

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There are various forms of statutory leave entitlement including maternity and adoption leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave, unpaid parental leave and carer’s leave. Individuals also have the statutory right to apply for flexible working and to take time off for dependants. We consider these various leave entitlements below.

Maternity leave and pay

  • All employees qualify for 52 weeks ‘statutory maternity leave’, regardless of the length of service. 
  • A pregnant employee is entitled to a period of ordinary maternity leave (OML) of 26 weeks followed by additional maternity leave (AML) of 26 weeks. It applies only to ‘employees’, whether they are full time or part time, fixed term or permanent, but is not available to the self-employed or those who come within the statutory definition of ‘worker’. During the leave, the employee is entitled to the benefit of the terms of her employment, except remuneration, which would have applied if she had not been absent and remains bound by any of her contractual obligations that are compatible with being on maternity leave. 
  • The employee must satisfy certain notification requirements but at the end of OML the employee has the right to return to her original job. 
  • At the end of the AML the employee is entitled to return to her original job or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to a suitable alternative job. 
  • Statutory maternity pay is payable for up to 39 weeks. (In order to qualify the employee must have at least 26 weeks service by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and earnings above the Lower Earnings Limit for NI purposes).
  • A woman may work during her maternity leave for up to ten days for her employer (referred to as ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days) without bringing her OML or AML to an end. 
  • Paid time off to keep appointments for ante-natal care made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor. Ante-natal care may include relaxation classes and parenting classes. The employee must show her employer (if it so requests) a certificate from a doctor and an appointment card. The time off should be paid. It is unlawful for an employer to dismiss an employee or to select her for redundancy in preference to other comparable employees, solely or mainly because she has sought to assert her statutory right to ante-natal care.
  • The employee is entitled to protection from dismissal or detriment. An employer may not dismiss an employee or select her for redundancy on grounds related to pregnancy or childbirth. A woman dismissed in these circumstances may make a complaint of automatically unfair dismissal, regardless of her length of service.
  • There may be additional contractual rights to maternity leave and maternity pay, at the employer’s discretion.

Adoption leave

  • One half of an adopting couple (which includes civil partners) will be able to take adoption leave, the other half may be able to take paternity leave.
  • Adoption leave mirrors maternity leave and pay. 

Paternity leave 

  • An employee who has 26 weeks’ continuous employment ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and is the biological father of the child or is married to or the partner (which includes civil partners) of the child’s mother and expects to have responsibility for the upbringing of the child will qualify for up to two weeks’ paid paternity leave. 
  • The rights during and after paternity leave are the same as for OML.
  • Employees will be able to take their two-week paternity leave entitlement as two separate blocks of one week or two consecutive weeks.
  • The employee must give at least 28 days’ notice of their intention to take the leave.
  • The leave must be taken in the 52 week period following the birth.

Shared parental leave

  • The mother or adopter may opt to curtail their leave entitlement and instead share their leave and pay entitlement with their partner.
  • This could mean that the mother or adopter shares some of the leave with her partner, perhaps returning to work for part of the time and then resuming leave at a later date.
  • The mother/ adopter still has to take a minimum two-weeks’ leave at the birth/ adoption. However, provided they meet the eligibility criteria they can then convert up to 50 weeks’ of their maternity/ adoption leave and 37 weeks’ of their statutory pay. 

Unpaid parental leave

  • Not to be confused with the Shared Parental Leave rights, this allows parents with one year’s service who have responsibility for a child to take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child up until the child’s 18th birthday.

Flexible working

Employees have the right to request a change in certain of their terms and conditions from day one of their employment: 

  • They can request a change to the hours they work.
  • They can request a change to the times when they are required to work.
  • They can request to work from a different location (for example, from home).
  • No more than 2 requests can be made in a 12-month period.
  • Any request must usually be dealt with within a period of 2 months.

Time off for dependants

  • All employees are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (for example, if a dependant falls ill or is injured, if care arrangements break down, or to arrange or attend a dependant’s funeral). 
  • An employee is protected against dismissal for exercising this right.

Carer’s leave

  • Employees who are responsible for dependants with long-term care needs have the right to take a week’s unpaid leave to help with their caring obligations. 
  • The right will apply where the employee has a dependant with a “long-term care need” which is defined as an illness or injury (either physical or mental) that requires or is likely to require care for more than three months, a disability under the Equality Act 2010, or issues related to old age. 
  • The leave may be taken in parts so that an employee could take it in single or even half day periods over the course of the year. 
  • The notice that must be given to take the leave must either be twice the length of time being requested, or three days, whichever is the longest. 

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