How will parental leave affect you?

A new package of laws and rights have been brought into force in the UK to help parents strike a healthy balance between work and home life – but will they help you? babyworld looks at what the parental leave rights will mean to you if you are expecting a baby now…

Who will gain?

The bad news is that the government’s plans, which came in on 15 December 1999, are not being applied retrospectively. So, if your child was born before 15 December, you will not be eligible for any of the new rights.

A strong argument was made for the rights to apply to anyone with a child under five, but the government decided it would take too heavy a toll on industry if this were done.

A last ditch attempt was made by the MSF union to persuade the government to apply the rights to the 3.3 million parents in the UK with children under the age of five.

Parental leave

The new right to unpaid parental leave will apply to people who have completed one year’s service with their employer and will allow parents with children born after 15 December 1999 to take parental leave to care for that child.

The right will apply to mums, dads and to any person who has obtained formal parental responsibility for a child under the Children Act or its Scottish equivalent.

Parents will be able to start taking the leave once the child is born, or as soon as they have completed a year’s service with their employer, whichever is later.

How will it affect me?

  1. 13 weeks parental leave for each child.
  2. The employee remains employed while on parental leave, although some terms, such as contractual notice or redundancy terms, will still apply.
  3. At the end of any leave taken, the employee is guaranteed to return to the same job. If that is not possible, a similar job with the same or better status. If leave taken is less than four weeks, the employee is entitled to return to the same job.
  4. Employees will be able to go to an employment tribunal if an employer tries to prevent them taking leave.
  5. Negotiation as to how much leave is taken at a time is up to the company. A set of fallback rules has been drawn up as a blueprint.

This blueprint suggests leave is taken in blocks or multiples of one week, after giving 21 days notice and up to four weeks leave in a year, although if an employee wants all 13 weeks in one go, and the company is happy, this can be permitted. Leave is subject to postponement by the employer for up to six months if a business cannot cope, but can’t be postponed if taken immediately after the child is born.

Employers don’t have to keep a record of parental leave, although it is expected many will. New employers will be able to ask previous employers how much leave has been taken or will be able to ask the employee.

Adopted children

The rights will also apply to parents of adopted children born after the qualifying date. In the same way as parents are entitled to take leave as soon as a baby is born, leave can be taken as soon as a child is adopted. In the case of adoption, the five years starts from the child’s adoption, not from the date of birth, but must be taken before the child reaches 18 years.

Disabled children

Parents of disabled children born after 15 December will be able to use their entitlement of 13 weeks unpaid leave up to the child’s 18th birthday.

The special move was made because, on average, parents with disabled children have to attend more medical appointments a year and it is expected they may choose to take their leave in blocks of one or two days rather than weeks at a time.

A disabled child in this context is a child for whom disability living allowance is awarded.

Time off for dependants

Under the Employee Relations Act, a short amount of time off to deal with family emergencies is also allowed.

Circumstances covered include:

* If a dependant falls ill, is injured or assaulted, or gives birth
* Making arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured
* To make funeral arrangements for a dependant or attend the funeral
* Coping with unexpected disruption or ending of arrangements for the care of a dependent
* Dealing with an incident involving a child of an employee that happens unexpectedly at school or during school hours.

A dependant could be the partner, child or parent of the employee, or someone who lives with the employee as part of their family. This could be an elderly aunt or grandparent who lives in the household but does not include tenants, boarders or someone who lives in the household as an employee.

It is up to the employer whether any time off is paid.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave has also changed, from April 30, 2000.

Before then, women were entitled to a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave, or 18 weeks if they had worked for their company for two years. This changed to 18 weeks for everyone.

Before April 30, women could take extended leave of up to 29 weeks from the week of birth if they had worked two years, this changed to one year from April 30.

Procedures for giving notice of taking maternity leave and arrangements for return to work were also simplified, making  it clear that contracts of employment continue during additional maternity leave.

Remember that the law applies to those whose expected week of childbirth was the week beginning April 30. If the baby was born early, the woman still qualifies for the new rights, as long as she has proof that her expected week of childbirth was April 30 or after.

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