September will see the first day of school for many young children and their doting parents will not want to miss this important milestone in their childhood. This causes problems for employers and raises the question of how they should be dealing with requests for leave during this period.
Parental Leave allows eligible employees to take up to 18 weeks of leave per child, up until their 18th birthday, limited to 4 weeks a year. Parental Leave is commonly used in September when children are starting school. Parental Leave is usually unpaid but an employer can exercise its discretion to pay for some or all of this leave. It may choose to do this as a contractual benefit or simply by exercising discretion in individual circumstances. Parental Leave can sometimes be confused with Shared Parental Leave or Paternity Leave but it should be noted that this is a separate leave entitlement.
To be eligible for Parental Leave, an individual must be an employee and have been employed continuously for a minimum of 12 months. The individual must have a child under the age of 18 and be named on the child’s birth certificate or adoption certificate, or have legal parental responsibility. Should an employee wish to take Parental Leave they must give at least 21 days notice to their employer of their intention.
An immediate concern for the employer is the potential disruption to the business. The employer does however carry the right to postpone any requested Parental Leave, provided that this is done properly in writing within 7 days of the request and they suggest an alternative start date for the leave to be taken. The only exception to this is if the leave request immediately follows birth or adoption. Employers should note that they are under no obligation to authorise Parental Leave for situations that an employee would be previously be aware of e.g. a check up at the dentist.
It is important to be aware that, during the Parental Leave, the employee retains all employment rights as normal. In addition, the employee gains the right not to be treated unfavourably because they are taking, or planning to take, Parental Leave.
Employers should ensure a consistent approach is taken with regards to requests for leave, and deal with any requests for leave quickly and fairly. Employers should remember that a request can only be postponed with good reason and therefore careful consideration should be taken if employers wish to postpone an employee’s leave.