Ordinary parental leave from April 2015: what employers need to know

Parents previously ineligible for ordinary parental leave, with children over five, have become eligible again
Parents previously ineligible for ordinary parental leave, with children over five, are now eligible.

With all the focus on shared parental leave, employers may have missed changes to entitlement to “ordinary” parental leave that came into force on 5 April 2015. Susie Munro clears up any potential confusion about how ordinary parental leave fits into the new regime of family-friendly rights.

What is ordinary parental leave?

Ordinary parental leave is unpaid leave that parents can take for the purpose of caring for a child. Eligible employees can take up to 18 weeks’ ordinary parental leave per child.

Ordinary parental leave was previously called “parental leave” – we are now referring to it as ordinary parental leave to avoid confusion with the new right to shared parental leave.

Employers can agree rules for the timing and notice requirements for ordinary parental leave with the workforce, otherwise the fallback position will apply.

Eligibility for ordinary parental leave

Prior to 5 April 2015, the leave had to be taken before the child’s fifth birthday, or 18th birthday if the child was disabled. For adopted children, the leave had to be taken before the fifth anniversary of the adoption placement or the child’s 18th birthday if this was sooner.

From 5 April 2015, the right to take ordinary parental leave is simplified and extended so that the leave can be taken at any time before the child’s 18th birthday in all situations. There are no longer different rules for disabled children or adopted children.

What has not changed?

It is still the case that ordinary parental leave is unpaid, which is likely to remain a disincentive to parents who would be eligible to take it.

Employees can take ordinary parental leave once they have been with the employer for at least one year.

Employees can take unpaid ordinary parental leave regardless of whether or not they take shared parental leave. The two rights are entirely separate.

Some employees have become entitled again

The increased time frame for taking shared parental leave – from before the fifth birthday to before the 18th birthday – means that some employees have become entitled to take ordinary parental leave again, having previously failed to take their entitlement. For example, an employee with a 10-year-old child who has not previously taken any ordinary parental leave will now be eligible again and can take 18 weeks’ leave before the child’s 18th birthday.

Keeping track of employees’ entitlements

Entitlement to ordinary parental leave is to 18 weeks’ leave per parent, per child. Now that employees have up to the child’s 18th birthday to take their entitlement, keeping track of how much leave an employee has already taken might become more of an issue for employers.

To know how much ordinary parental leave an employee can take, the employer needs to know how much he or she has already taken with previous employers. There is no duty on employers to keep records of this, or to provide this information if requested by a subsequent employer.

Obtaining evidence of an employee’s parental leave record, which could go back almost 18 years, will be impossible in many cases, so employers will have to trust their employees to be honest about how much ordinary parental leave they have taken with previous employers.

However, given that ordinary parental leave is unpaid and cannot be taken in the first year of employment with a new employer, it is unlikely that this will be an issue that will cause too many problems for employers.

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