Unpaid parental leave extended

The right to unpaid parental leave for parents with children under the age of five will be extended from 13 to 18 weeks from 8 March.

The change is being made under the revised Parental Leave (EU Directive) Regulations 2013, which were originally due to come in to effect from March 2012.

Audrey Williams, partner at law firm Eversheds, said: “Under existing law, parents who have been employed for one year or more and who have, or expect to have, responsibility for a child have the right to take unpaid parental leave to care for their children in addition to any maternity, paternity or adoption leave they may qualify for.

“This is currently an entitlement to 13 weeks’ leave per child, which can be taken before a child’s 5th birthday or the 5th anniversary of their placement for adoption, but, in the case of a child eligible for a disability living allowance, the entitlement is to 18 weeks’ leave to be taken at any time before the child’s 18th birthday.

“Although employers and parents can agree more flexible arrangements, under the statutory scheme, no more than four weeks’ leave can be taken in any one year and leave must be taken in one-week blocks.

“In reality, the change is unlikely to make a significant difference to employers. The fact that the leave is unpaid means that take up has not, to date at least, been great. Changes to maternity and paternity leave, both recent and proposed, mean that fathers are able to take more significant periods of time off following the birth, or adoption, of a child, and recourse to the unpaid parental leave provisions is infrequent.”

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The government also introduced the Children and Families Bill into Parliament on 4 February 2013.

It proposes that, by 2015, working parents will be able to share parental leave following a child’s birth; prospective parents will be allowed to take more time off for antenatal appointments; leave and pay entitlements for adoptive parents will be aligned more closely with those available to birth parents; and the right to request flexible-working arrangements will be extended to all employees.