For working parents, particularly those with young children, it can be difficult to balance the demands of work with the demands of family. Most employers are understanding when an employee asks for time off to look after a child and will accommodate the request. Employers should, however, be aware that in some circumstances employed parents have the legal right to unpaid parental leave to care for their children. This right is available to both men and women and is additional to maternity leave.
To qualify for parental leave, the parent must have been employed by the employer for at least one year.
The right to parental leave applies to the parents of children who are born to them or adopted by them. Where a child has been born parental leave must be taken before the child’s fifth birthday. Where a child has been adopted parental leave must be taken within five years of the date of adoption or the child’s 18th birthday, whichever is the sooner.
Managing the process
Employers can introduce their own parental leave scheme but in practice most follow the scheme which is set out in the Parental Leave Regulations.
When an employee asks to take parental leave, you can, if you wish, ask for proof of the child’s age. It would not, however, be reasonable to ask for proof each time leave is requested or to ask for documents other than the normal ones, like a birth certificate, which an employee can get hold of easily. You can also ask a previous employer to confirm if your employee has taken any part of the 13 week entitlement before he/she joined your company.
Although you are not required by law to keep records of parental leave, you should record such absences as part of your normal procedures. As with all other absences, enter the details on the employee’s Absence Record.
If an employee tries to claim parental leave dishonestly, you should treat this as misconduct and deal with it according to your normal discipline procedure.