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Parental leave

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Your employees may have the right to:

  • maternity leave
  • adoption leave
  • paternity leave
  • shared parental leave
  • unpaid parental leave
  • parental bereavement leave.

The information in this section outlines the minimum legal rights of employees. You may choose to give benefits above the legal minimum.


Ante-natal care

Pregnant women have the right to paid time off for ante-natal care made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor. After the first appointment, your employee should show you her appointment card.

Maternity leave

Pregnant women have a right to up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. There is no length of service requirement – in theory, this entitlement could be taken from the first day of employment.

Statutory maternity pay

Pregnant employees may qualify for statutory maternity pay (SMP) during their leave. SMP is paid for a maximum of 39 weeks. There is a higher rate for the first six weeks then a lower rate for the subsequent 33 weeks.

To qualify for SMP, they must have been:

  • employed by the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the week their baby is due (the ‘qualifying week’)
  • earning on average an amount which at least equals the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions (see current rates).

If the employee does not qualify for SMP, you must give them form SMP1 for them to take to the Job Centre Plus. This may allow them to claim Maternity Allowance.

Employment benefits

Women on maternity leave are entitled to keep normal employment benefits apart from salary. This includes:

  • employer contributions to a pension scheme (if applicable) for the period of receipt of maternity pay
  • accrual of holiday entitlement (normally including bank/public holiday entitlement) during the whole period of maternity leave.

Risk assessment

You should undertake a risk assessment with your pregnant employee as soon as you are informed of her pregnancy. This is to protect her health and that of her unborn child. See the HSE’s FAQ on expectant mothers.

Keeping in touch days

During maternity leave, women may undertake up to 10 keeping in touch (KIT) days. These are days when they can undertake work for you without bringing their entitlement to statutory maternity leave and (where applicable) statutory maternity pay to an end. They cannot do the KIT days during the two-week period after the birth (‘compulsory maternity leave’).

There is no obligation for the employee to undertake KIT days and there is no obligation on you as the employer to offer them. However, KIT days can be a useful way of keeping in contact. You should not subject the employee to any detriment whether or not she wishes to undertake a KIT day.

The employee’s maternity leave is not extended by the number of KIT days she takes.

The law does not state the amount that an employee should be paid for a KIT day, but it is advised that you should pay the employee’s normal salary for any day that she works for you. You could reduce the daily pay by the amount of SMP that she would otherwise receive on that day.

Further information – maternity leave and pay

There are many other rules about maternity leave and pay, including requirements on when and how your employee must notify you of her intention to take maternity leave and the timescale for you to respond. You are advised to find out the latest information on the government website or on the Acas website.

Paternity leave

Paternity Leave is for a period of one or two weeks and must be taken within 56 days of the birth of the baby, or within 56 days of the date of placement for adoption. There are certain eligibility criteria for paternity leave. Payment for paternity leave is at rates set by the government each year  see the GOV.UK guidance for employers.

Paternity leave may be taken by women, for example in the case of a same-sex couple or when a man is the primary adopter and is taking the longer adoption leave (see below).

For further information on paternity leave and the payment that must be made, see the GOV.UK paternity leave guide or the Acas paternity leave guidance.

Adoption leave

Adoption leave is for up to a year and can be taken by the principal adopter in a couple, whether this person is male or female. The entitlements to leave and pay mirror those for maternity leave.

For further information, see the GOV.UK guidance or Acas guidance on adoption leave.

Shared parental leave

The mother or principal adopter may choose to ‘curtail’ their maternity or adoption leave and share the remaining leave with the father/partner. Up to 50 weeks of leave can be shared. For further information on shared parental leave, see the GOV.UK guidance on shared parental leave or the Acas information, including a model policy.

Recovery of statutory maternity, paternity or adoption payments

You can usually reclaim 92% of employees’ SMP, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay. You can reclaim 103% if your business qualifies for small employers’ relief. See the government page, Get financial help with statutory pay for further information.

Unpaid parental leave

Parents or adopters may apply for unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks, to be taken before the child reaches age 18. A maximum of four weeks’ unpaid parental leave may be taken in any one year. There are certain eligibility criteria.

For further information, see the government's pages on parental leave or see guidance on the Acas website.

Parental bereavement leave

With effect from 6 April 2020, parents who suffer a bereavement of a child under the age of 18 or a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy are entitled to up to two weeks of parental bereavement leave. This is paid at statutory rates, subject to length of service. See government guidance on parental bereavement leave. You may also wish to check for updates in due course on the Acas website.

Further information

You can work out entitlements to the various types of parental leave on GOV.UK’s page, Calculate your leave and pay when you have a child. You can find further information about your responsibilities towards parents and carers on the Acas website.

Acas also have a helpline you can call, to gain advice and information about parental rights. This number is 0300 123 1100.

The member-only section of NCVO Knowhow offers the following example policies to download:

Further resources

Page last edited Apr 06, 2022

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