Parental leave

Becoming a parent can come with lots of surprises, from how much it’s going to cost, to what parental rights you have at work.

Whatever your circumstances, use this guide to parental leave to learn what your rights and options are. 

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Parental leave

We help you understand your rights and options for parental leave.

  • Learn about parental leave

    While there are some rights that every mum or dad get, exactly what you’re entitled to from your employer will depend on things like: your type of employment, your length of service, and what your contract and your employer’s policies say. So it’s always best to check, to make sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to. 

    To read up on specific scenarios, see Citizens Advice.

  • Telling your employer

    You’re not legally obliged to tell your employer, or any prospective employer, that you or your partner is pregnant. But to take maternity or paternity leave, you’ll need to tell them by the end of the 15th week before the week your baby is due (around week 25 of the pregnancy).

    To take adoption leave, you must tell your employer within seven days of being matched with a child.

  • Maternity and paternity rights at work

    You have extra rights at work when you or your partner is expecting a baby. And if you’re a same-sex couple, you’re entitled to the same rights that opposite-sex couples get. Most banks offer more benefits than the legal minimum, for example, some give you extra healthcare while you’re pregnant.

    Your rights when you're pregnant

    If you’re pregnant you’re entitled to:

    Maternity pay and maternity leave. Your right to maternity pay may depend on your employment conditions, so be sure to check.

    Protection from health and safety risks. Your employer must take into account any health and safety risks to you and your baby. These could include: heavy lifting or carrying, standing or sitting for a long time without getting enough breaks, and working long hours.

    Protection from discrimination. You have a right not to be discriminated against because of your pregnancy.

    Paid time off for certain appointments. You have the right to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments, including relaxation and parent craft classes.

    Your rights when you're expecting a child

    If you’re an expectant dad or if your partner is pregnant or you’re having a baby through surrogacy, you’re entitled to:

    Unpaid time off for certain appointments. You have the right to unpaid time off to accompany the mother to two ante-natal appointments. Though you don’t have a legal right to paid time off for antenatal appointments, your employer may allow this.

    You may also be entitled to:

    Paternity pay and paternity leave. Your right to this will depend on your employment conditions, so be sure to check.

    Your rights when you’re on maternity or paternity leave

    While you’re on maternity, paternity or shared parental leave, you’re still entitled to all the employee rights you normally get from work, like:

    • Paid holidays
    • Protection from unfair dismissal
    • Pension payments and rights during your period of statutory pay 
    • Any other employee benefits like health insurance or discounted gym membership
  • How much leave can I take?

    Life is about to change, so it’s good to know how much time you can take off to adjust to your circumstances. Below is the statutory amount you’ll get, but your employer may be more flexible. 

    Maternity leave. Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks. This is made up of ordinary maternity leave for the first 26 weeks and additional maternity leave for the last 26 weeks. You don’t have to take all 52 weeks, but you must take two weeks’ leave after your baby is born. You’ll need to give your employer four weeks’ notice before you want to take your maternity leave. Usually, the earliest you can start your leave is 11 weeks before the week your baby is due. And you’ll need to give them eight weeks’ notice if you decide to come back earlier or later than your 52 weeks. 

    Paternity leave. Working dads (or the partners of pregnant women, including same-sex couples) are entitled to one or two weeks of paid paternity leave. To qualify for this, you must have had the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date, or by the time you’re matched with a child for adoption. 

    Shared parental leave. You and your partner may be able to get shared parental leave from your employers. If you’re eligible, you can both share up to 50 weeks' leave and up to 37 weeks' pay. Like paternity leave, to qualify for shared parental leave, you must have had the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due (or due to be placed with you through adoption).

    Adoption leave. You or your partner are entitled to take up to 52 weeks’ adoption leave. Only one of you can take adoption leave, but the other can take paternity leave, or you can both take shared parental leave. Usually there’s no minimum amount of time you must have worked for your employer. But if you adopt a child from overseas, you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the ‘matching week’. You get these rights if you’ve been matched with a child through an adoption agency or, for an overseas adoption, received official notification, but not in the case of private adoptions. 

  • How much pay will I get?

    It’s important you plan financially for your new arrival. Maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay is taxable, so take that into account when you’re working out how much money you’ll have coming in. And check with your employer to see if they can provide you with more than the legal minimum.

    Statutory maternity pay. This is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax for the first six weeks, and £140.98 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

    Statutory paternity pay. This is usually paid for one or two weeks. You get £140.98 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). 

    Statutory shared parental pay. You can share up to 37 weeks’ maternity pay under shared parental leave. You should be eligible to do this if you qualify for statutory maternity pay, or if you qualify for statutory paternity pay and your partner qualifies for statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. You get £140.98 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

    Statutory adoption pay. This is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax for the first six weeks, and £140.98 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

  • Emergency and parental leave

    Did know that working mums and dads are entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child they have? You can take this leave at any time until your child turns 18. And you can take up to four weeks per child per year. Parental leave is intended to help you look after your child's welfare, like when they’re sick or your childcare falls through, and strike a better balance between your commitments at home and at work. 

    You can take this leave at any time until your child turns 18. And you can take up to four weeks per child per year. Parental leave is intended to help you look after your child's welfare, like when they’re sick or your childcare falls through, and strike a better balance between your commitments at home and at work. 

    Parental leave should be taken in blocks of a week or weeks, not as single days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or your child has a disability. And you must have worked for your employer for one year to qualify.

  • Returning to work, or not

    To return to work…or not. You have a right to return to work after your maternity leave. But it’s completely normal to have a period of weighing up whether or not you or your partner should go back to work.

    Your employer will assume you’ll be away for a year unless you tell them otherwise. If you change your mind about when you want to return, give them at least eight weeks’ notice. And if you decide not to return to work, your contract will tell you what notice to give.

    Not returning to your job

    Make sure you get paid for any holiday you have left, including the time you built up while you were on maternity leave.

    Be mindful that if you get enhanced maternity pay from your employer (i.e. more than the statutory amount), if you choose not to go back to work, you may need to pay back the difference between the two. Your contract or employee handbook will tell you how long you need to spend back at work to keep your full contractual maternity pay.

  • Discrimination at work and unfair dismissal

    Most employers are considerate of maternity and paternity rights. But if you feel like you’ve been discriminated against, from being unfairly dismissed to being passed over for a promotion, because of your pregnancy or because you’ve taken parental leave, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer. 

    It’s usually a good idea to discuss any issues you have with your manager or HR department first, but if this doesn't work, consider contacting ACAS for free and impartial advice on workplace relations and employment law.

Next steps

If you have lots to find out about parental leave, having a set of practical actions will help you work out how to best approach this.