Parental leave: what is it and how does it differ from maternity leave?
Does your employee or team member have a new baby? It may be time to grant them parental leave.
Depending on how long the employee has been with you at your company, they may be entitled to weeks of parental leave to see to the delivery and bond with their newborn child.
The fact that these laws exist is a good thing, but they have ramifications for you as a small business owner.
It can also get tricky fast because parental leave has a specific legal definition in UK employment law, even though in HR it’s often used interchangeably with maternity leave and shared parental leave. These are all related, but they’re not the same thing.
With this guide, I hope to help clear the air on some of these matters. I’ll dive into some of the intricacies of UK laws concerning parental leave, and give guidance on some best practices for you to make a fair and legally compliant parental leave policy.
What is parental leave?
So, what is parental leave anyhow?
In UK employment law, parental leave is a period of unpaid, employment-protected period of absence from work. Parents can use this time to take care of their children.
Each parent in the UK is entitled to up to 18 weeks of paid parental leave for each child and adopted child, up until their 18th birthday.
This differs from maternity or paternity leave in a few key areas. While maternity/paternity leave focuses on the initial stage of parenthood during the child’s early life, parental leave gives parents the flexibility to care for their child’s welfare beyond just the first few weeks or months.
It is quite common to refer to parental leave as a synonym of maternity or paternity leave, however they are two very different types of leave.
Parental leave allows parents to be parents. These laws give them the chance to be a part of their child’s lives. After all, they grow up right before your eyes.
How parental leave differs from other types of leave
Knowing the little nuances of the different types of care leave can make a real difference in how you run your small business - and how you treat your employees with children.
Here are the few different types of parental leave you’ll need to be aware of:
1. Maternity leave
Maternity leave is typically reserved for biological mothers and is often paid. In the UK, maternity leave can last up to 52 weeks.
Your maternity leave policy gives your expecting employees the time they need to recover from childbirth and bond with their newborns.
2. Paternity leave
This one is for the dad’s - or the mother’s partner.
Paternity leave is usually paid for. It’s also often much shorter than maternity leave - only about 1-2 weeks or so.
This is a brief period afforded to new fathers to be there for their partners and bond with their newborn children.
3. Shared parental leave
This is a more flexible option. Shared parental leave gives parents the option of divvying out between them 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. This way, both parents can be there for each other as a team during the early stages of a child’s life.
4. Parental leave
Parental leave stands out in that it’s unpaid, and can be taken for a child up to 18 years old.
This offers the parent long-term flexibility to be there for their child during important life events - graduation ceremonies, football games, birthdays, etc.
Understanding these differences will help you make a more compassionate and fair leave policy that sees the needs of your diverse team.
Flexibility in small businesses
One of the major advantages that small businesses have over larger more established companies is flexibility.
Corporations often have rigid structures and are slow to adjust their processes and adapt to change - even if it becomes necessary.
Small businesses, on the other hand, have more leeway to pivot and to make quick decisions when the need arises. This flexibility also extends to how they can make parental leave policies.
In a small business, you may not necessarily have to abide by the 21-day notice period for parental leave. If you have enough hands on deck to get things done, why not be more accommodating?
That more flexible notice period in your parental leave policy can make a world of difference for an employee who wants to be there when their child takes their first steps or plays their first cricket match. It also shows them that you care about them as people.
Flexible parental leave case studies
Let’s look at a real-world example of why a flexible parental leave policy is a good thing.
The Alliance Manchester Business School shared a video testimonial about how shared parental leave made a difference in the lives of two working parents - who could care for their son without worrying about what’s happening at work.
Not only that, but a 2022 study showed that almost half of employers support extending statutory paternity leave and pay.
Why? Because it has a positive impact on the number of women returning to work.
Consider implementing a flexible parental leave policy if you want to attract a more diverse workforce. It might just give you a competitive edge.
Common FAQs about parental leave
The particularities of what you owe your employees in terms of parental leave, and how much you can change it to suit your company culture, is the subject of some misunderstanding.
I’d like to tackle some of the most common questions I hear:
1. How many days of parental leave are allowed?
Parents in the UK are entitled to up to 18 weeks of parental leave per child. This usually happens in blocks of a week or more. That gives parents the flexibility to plan around their child’s needs.
2. Can both parents take leave simultaneously?
Indeed, they can. Both parents can take parental leave together if they’re both eligible.
In these cases, you’ll need to consider how it will impact your business operations. If they won’t cause any undue disruptions, then simultaneous leave is entirely possible.
3. What if an employer denies leave?
You have the right to postpone extended parental leave for up to six months if it would significantly harm your business.
You must remember though, you cannot refuse parental leave outright. Parental leave is a statutory right, and denying it could land you in legal trouble.
How CharlieHR can leave your expecting parents in good hands
With HR tools and advice from CharlieHR, you can create a policy that’s both legally compliant and helps your employees feel cared for.
I or one of the other HR advisors at Charlie can help you create a bespoke parental leave policy tailored to your company’s needs. We can also conduct regular compliance audits to make sure you’re staying within the law.
With the CharlieHR time-off tool, keeping track of who’s who and who’s leaving when won’t be an issue. That way, planning for parental leave becomes a breeze.