Becoming a parent is one of the biggest life-changing experiences any of us will ever go through, and by law, new parents are allowed to have time off work in order to look after their new arrival. The legalities in this area have undergone numerous changes over the years. Expert solicitors The Claims Partnership takes a look at the different kinds of parental leave and the rules surrounding them.

Maternity leave

Statutory maternity leave consists of 52 weeks which eligible employees can take off. The first 26 weeks is referred to as ‘ordinary maternity leave’ while the last 26 weeks is ‘additional maternity leave’. Ordinary leave can start as early as 11 weeks before the expected week of birth. A minimum of two weeks must be taken after the birth by employees, or four weeks if they are employed in a factory.

To qualify for statutory maternity leave, employees must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Have a contract of employment. It does not matter how long the employee has worked there
  • Provide the correct notice to the employer (15 weeks before the baby is expected, the due date must be provided and when they want to start maternity leave. This can change with 28 days’ notice)

If the baby arrives early, then maternity leave starts the day after the birth.

Statutory maternity pay can be paid to eligible employees for up to 39 weeks. The format for payment is usually as follows:

  • 90% of the mother’s average weekly earnings (before tax) is paid for the first six weeks
  • £140.98 or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) is paid for the remaining 33 weeks

Tax and national insurance contributions are still deducted. 28 days notice must be given for the start of statutory pay.

To quality for statutory maternity pay, the following criteria must be met:

  • They must be on the payroll in the ‘qualifying week’. This is the 15th week before the child is expected
  • Provide the correct notice (see above)
  • Provide proof of pregnancy – usually a maternity certificate or doctor’s letter which is issued approximately 20 weeks before the due date
  • Have worked for the company continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the ‘qualifying week’
  • Earn at least £113 per week (gross) in eight weeks

Paternity leave

If your partner is having a baby, if you are adopting or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement, fathers-to-be may be entitled to one of two types of leave:

  • Standard paternity leave
  • Shared parental leave

Standard paternity leave can be taken for either one or two weeks. This amount is the same even if there are multiple births i.e. twins or triplets. Paternity leave must be taken in one go, and it cannot start before the birth of the child. While a precise date does not have to be given (and often can’t), fathers must provide a general time such as ‘the day of the birth’ or ‘one week after the birth’. To change the start date once it has been given, you must give 28 days’ notice.

Fathers will also get time off work to accompany their partner (or the surrogate mother) to two antenatal appointments.

The current rate of statutory paternity pay currently stands at £140.98 per week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings – whichever is lower. This is paid in the same way your wages normally are i.e. weekly or monthly, and tax and national insurance deductions will also be made.

Shared parental leave

Shared parental leave is a relatively new right for mothers and fathers, and was introduced to the UK in 2015. It allows up to 50 weeks of leave (37 of them paid) to be taken and shared by parents. Traditionally the option for paid time off work has only been available to mothers; the new rules now offer fathers the option in addition to their two weeks of paid paternity leave. However these latest rules do replace ‘additional paternity leave’, which is no longer in effect.

Parents can now take their leave during the child’s first year at different times, or they can take leave at the same time. The pay for shared parental leave is currently £139.58 or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, although employers may offer more. Pay is only given for 37 weeks. The remaining 13 weeks will be unpaid if they are taken.

In order to qualify for shared parental leave, the following eligibility criteria must be me:

  • One parent must have been an employee of the same company for a minimum of 26 weeks by the end of the ‘qualifying week’
  • The other parent must have worked for a minimum of 26 in the 66 weeks preceding the due date. They must also have earned at least £30 per week in 13 out of those 66

Unpaid parental leave

Unpaid parental leave is different from shared, as it refers to the legal right of a parent to take time off from work to look after their child or to arrange care. It is not legally required for employers to pay workers when they taking parental leave, although some may choose to.

Unpaid parental leave entitles working parents to take up to 18 weeks per child up to their eighteenth birthday. Employees must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible:

  • They must have been employed for one continuous year of service
  • Requests for leave must be given at least 21 days before the intended start date
  • Leave should be taken in week blocks or multiple weeks as opposed to odd days off. This may not be the case if the employer agrees or special arrangements need to be made due to disability

Parental leave can be taken for a variety of reasons as long as it is related to caring for your child. Some examples are:

  • Looking into new schools or nurseries
  • An overlap period as your child settles into new childcare
  • Staying with your child while they are in hospital
  • Spending more time as a family i.e. during their early years or allowing your extended family to be together