Parental leave extended from three to four months

Employers need not panic as EU proposals to increase unpaid parental leave from three to four months were accepted in Brussels this week.

On Monday the European Council agreed to extend the existing right for parents to take leave from three to four months per parent, per child, by 2012. Up to three of these months can be transferred from one parent to another.

The deal applies to “all workers, men and women who have an employment contract or employment relationship as defined by the law regardless of their type of contract – fixed-term, part-time, temporary etc.”

But employment experts have predicted the changes are unlikely to be popular among UK employees.

Simon Rice-Birchall, partner at Eversheds law firm, said: “Under current law there is no obligation to pay workers who are on parental leave, and nothing in this new proposal changes that. The fact that leave is unpaid means that relatively few workers take advantage of parental leave rights.

Jo Stubbs, XpertHR employment law editor, agreed take-up was “generally low” and did not expect that to change.

Parental leave rights

  • The parents of a child under the age of five each have the legal right to take up to 13 weeks’ unpaid parental leave until the child’s fifth birthday. This will increase to four months by 2012.
  • Parental leave cannot be transferred between parents, as it is an individual right.
  • Where a child is adopted, the leave must be taken before the fifth anniversary of the adoption or the child’s 18th birthday, whichever occurs sooner.
  • Where the child is disabled, the right is to up to 18 weeks’ parental leave until the child’s 18th birthday.
  • The right to parental leave arises in respect of each child, so the parents of twins are each entitled to parental leave in respect of each child.
  • To qualify for parental leave, an employee must have completed at least one year’s continuous service with the employer.

Source: The XpertHR employment law manual

However, she told Personnel Today: “Obviously some parents do make use of it, and it is worth bearing in mind that the right is per parent per child, so the parents of twins would each be entitled to four months of unpaid leave in respect of each child under the new rules.”

Stubbs added under certain circumstances employers could postpone periods of parental leave, but ultimately employees could not be denied their rights.

Meanwhile the government is consulting on plans to allow mothers to transfer up to six months of their maternity leave to fathers. Parents who do so will be eligible to receive 39 weeks’ paid leave between them, the current amount that mothers are entitled to.

XpertHR, IRS, Celre and Personnel Today are part of the XpertHR Group.

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