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Parental rights at work

Rights of working parents

Working parents have the following legal rights:

  • paid and unpaid maternity leave
  • paid paternity leave
  • paid and unpaid adoption leave
  • to request flexible working hours
  • unpaid parental leave for parents of children under 18
  • unpaid time off to deal with unexpected problems with the care of dependants
  • to share leave and pay for a child due to be born on or after 5 April 2015, or placed for adoption on or after that date

These rights apply to parents in same-sex as well as in opposite-sex relationships.

For information about parental leave and time off work to care for dependants, see Basic rights at work.

Paternity leave

If you are a working father, you are entitled to one or two weeks’ paternity leave when you and your partner have a child. Some other people are also entitled to paternity leave – see below. You can also qualify for paternity leave when you adopt a child. 

To qualify for paternity leave for a birth, you must:

  • have had the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth
  • be the biological father of the child, or be married to or be the partner of the baby's mother (this includes same-sex partners, whether or not they are registered civil partners)
  • have responsibility for the child's upbringing and wish to take time off to care for the child or support the mother (this responsibility for the upbringing of the child may be shared with the child's mother), and
  • have given your employer the correct notice to take paternity leave

To qualify for paternity leave for an adoption, you must:

  • have had the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the time you are matched with your child for adoption
  • not already know the child - for example, it can't be your stepchild
  • not be taking adoption leave (where you and a partner are adopting a child, one of you can take adoption leave and one paternity leave)
  • have responsibility for the child's upbringing and wish to take time off to care for the child or support the mother (this responsibility for the upbringing of the child may be shared with the child's mother)
  • have given your employer the correct notice to take paternity leave

Most fathers who are entitled to paternity leave will also be entitled to statutory paternity pay for the same days. To qualify, you must also:

  • keep working for your employer up to the date of birth

  • be earning a weekly average of at least the National Insurance lower earnings limit

Statutory Paternity Pay is paid at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay.

When you can take paternity leave

If you are taking paternity leave for a birth, the leave can start either on the day the baby is born or on a date that has been agreed in advance with your employer. Your paternity leave cannot start before the baby is born. If you are agreeing a leave date later than the birth of your baby, the leave must be completed within 56 of days of the birth.

If you are taking paternity leave for an adoption, the leave can start either on the day that the child is placed with you, or on a date that has been agreed in advance with your employer. If you are agreeing a leave date later than the date your child was placed with you, the leave must be completed within 56 days of the adoption date.

Telling your employer about your paternity leave

You need to be able to show your employer that you are entitled to paternity leave. To do this you must give the employer this information:

  • your name
  • the date the baby is due or the date of the birth (if you are adopting a child you should give the date you were matched with your child or the date when the child is placed with you)
  • the date when you would like your paternity leave (and pay) to start
  • whether you are taking one or two weeks of paternity leave
  • a declaration that you are entitled to paternity leave
  • a declaration that you are taking leave to support the mother or care for the child

You can use self-certificates to provide this information to your employer. You can find self-certificates for a birth child PDF and for an adopted child PDF  on the HM Revenue and Customs website.

You must also give your employer notice that you want to take paternity leave. The notice must be in writing if your employer asks for written notice. You must give notice 15 weeks before the baby is due or, if this is not practical, as soon as possible once you know you want to take leave. If you are adopting a child, you must give notice no later than 7 days after the date you are matched with your child for adoption. If this is not practical you must give notice as soon as possible once you know you want to take paternity leave.

You can change your mind about when you want to take paternity leave, but if you do you should give your employer 28 days' notice of the changed date.

Sharing leave

If you are expecting a child on or after 3 April 2011, or you are adopting a child which is matched with you on or after 3 April 2011, you may be able to share leave between yourself and your partner.

If your partner hasn't used up all of their statutory maternity leave and has gone back to work, you can take the remainder of their leave off instead.

This is called additional paternity leave. You can take this after the baby is 20 weeks old but before they are 1 year old. You have to take the leave all in one go.

This right will be abolished from 5 April 2015, as you will be able to take shared parental leave instead.

You have to give your employer notice that you want to take additional paternity leave. You also have to give them evidence that you are entitled to it. This includes a declaration from your partner that they have gone back to work.

If your partner hasn't used up all their entitlement to statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance, you can be paid additional statutory paternity pay for the rest of the time they were entitled to it.

Further information about paternity leave

The GOV.UK website has more information about paternity leave. It also has a page that will help you calculate paternity leave and pay.

You can get more information on paternity leave in Northern Ireland from Nidirect.

An organisation called Working Families has a text and email service for fathers which gives more information about their rights at work. The text number is 0780 000 4722 and the email address is edads@workingfamilies.org.uk.

For more information in England, Wales and Scotland about paternity leave and paternity pay, see 'Rights of working fathers' in Employment fact sheets.

Shared parental leave 

If you are expecting a baby, or having a child placed with you for adoption, you will be able to share your maternity leave and pay with your partner. You will be able to share up to 50 weeks’ leave and up to 37 weeks’ pay.

To be eligible to for shared parental leave (SPL), you must:

  • share care of the child with your spouse, civil partner or joint adopter, the child’s other parent, or your partner (if they live with you and the child)
  • have had the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date (or placement date)
  • still be employed by your employer until the week before you take any period of SPL

In the 66 weeks before the baby is due, your partner must:

  • have been working for at least 26 weeks (which do not have to be continuous). They can be employed, self-employed or an agency worker
  • have earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of the 66 weeks

You will be eligible for statutory shared parental pay if:

  • you qualify for statutory maternity pay
  • you qualify for statutory paternity pay and have a partner who qualifies for statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance

More details of the shared parental leave scheme are available on the GOV.UK website.

Adoption leave

If you are a working parent who has been matched with a child for adoption or if you have had a child placed with you for adoption, you may be entitled to adoption leave. You need to be an employee, and you may need to give your employer proof of the adoption. 

Usually there is no minimum amount of time you must have worked for your employer. The two exceptions are:

  • if the child was due to be placed before 5 April 2015, you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks ending with the week in which you are notified
  • if you adopt a child from overseas you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the week in which you receive official notification

The rights outlined here apply only to employees who have been matched with a child through an adoption agency or, in the case of an overseas adoption, received official notification. They do not apply to private adoptions.

Adoptive parents are entitled to up to 52 weeks’ adoption leave.

Most adoptive parents will also be entitled to Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP). This lasts for 39 weeks. For the first 6 weeks you’re paid 90% of your average gross weekly earnings. For the weeks after that you’re paid whichever is lower out of:

  • 90% of your normal weekly earnings

  • £139.58 a week

You may also be entitled to some adoption pay under your employment contract.

Where a couple adopts a child, only one parent is entitled to take adoption leave. The other parent may be able to take paternity leave (see under heading Paternity leave) or shared parental leave. This includes same-sex couples.

Telling your employer about your adoption leave

You must notify your employer that you want to take adoption leave no more than 7 days after you have been notified that you have been matched with a child for adoption, or as soon as is practical after this. You must tell your employer the date when you expect the child to be placed with you and the date when you want your statutory adoption leave to start.

The partner of a person who adopts, or in a couple the person who is not taking adoption leave, may be entitled to paternity leave and pay.

The GOV.UK website has more information about adoption leave. It also has a page that can help you calculate adoption leave and pay.

You can get more information on adoption leave in Northern Ireland from Nidirect.

The right to ask for flexible working

If you are the parent of a child, you have the right to ask for flexible working if your child is:

  • under 17
  • under 18 and disabled

You must also have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks and must be responsible for your child on a day-to-day basis.

If you are caring for an adult, you also have the right to ask for flexible working.

For more information about caring for an adult and flexible working, see Basic rights at work.

Flexible working can include working part time, working school hours, working flexitime, home working, job sharing, shift working, staggering hours and compressing hours (where you work your total number of agreed hours over a shorter period).

Although you have the right to ask to work flexibly, your employer doesn't have to agree to it. However, they must give your request serious consideration and have a good business reason if they decide not to agree.

You can make one request to work flexibly each year. This must be in writing. You should say how you think the change in your working pattern will affect your employer's business and how this might work in practice.

Your employer must also follow a standard procedure for considering your request. This includes having a meeting with you. If your employer wants to turn down your request for flexible working, they must give their reasons in writing. You have the right to appeal if your request is turned down. You must do this in writing and within 14 days of getting your employer's decision. You should give your reasons for appealing and make sure your appeal is dated.

If your appeal for flexible working is refused, you may be able to:

  • ask ACAS to help you sort out your dispute with your employer (in Northern Ireland this is the Labour Relations Agency). ACAS has set up a flexible working arbitration scheme to deal with this type of dispute. You can find out more on the ACAS website
  • complain to an employment tribunal

You can only complain to an employment tribunal in certain circumstances. For example, where your employer hasn't followed the procedure properly for considering your request, or where they haven't taken the right information into account when making their decision.

You may also be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal for discrimination. For example, you can make a claim if you are a man and your request to work part-time to look after your children is refused when a request by a female employee would have been accepted. If you are a woman, you may be able to make a claim on the basis that refusing to allow you to work flexibly is 'indirect sex discrimination'. This is because more women than men have childcare responsibilities.

This is a very complicated area. If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal because your employer has refused your request for flexible working, there are strict time limits and procedures to follow. You should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Visit Our advice for you to find out how you can get in touch with us, including by email.

Also bear in mind that an employment tribunal may not be able to overturn your employer's decision. However, it may be able to force your employer to reconsider your request or award you compensation.

You can find out more about the right to flexible working on the GOV.UK website.

You can get more information on the right to flexible working in Northern Ireland from Nidirect.

Maternity rights

The law gives you a number of rights if you're pregnant. These are known as statutory rights, and they include:

For more information about maternity leave and your right to return to work, see Maternity leave.

Extra rights given by the contract of employment

The statutory rights outlined above are minimum rights. Many workers will have better rights in their contract of employment.

For more information on contracts of employment, see Contracts of employment.

Workers who do not have statutory maternity rights

Some workers do not have any statutory maternity rights. They are:

  • share fisherwomen
  • women who are normally employed abroad (unless they have a work connection with the UK)
  • self-employed women
  • policewomen and women serving in the armed forces, who are entitled to statutory maternity pay and can claim sex discrimination but are not entitled to the other rights for pregnant workers

Time off for ante-natal care

Who qualifies

Apart from Workers who do not have statutory maternity rights, any woman who is working and pregnant will qualify. This is regardless of how long they have worked for their present employer, and regardless of how many hours a week they work.

The right to paid time off

You can have time off for appointments for ante-natal care if your doctor, midwife or health visitor advises that it is needed. Your employer should pay your usual wage for the time off, as long as you only have a reasonable amount of time off. However, if you take a lot of time off, you may be treated as if you are off sick, and will only get paid if your contract of employment allows for you to be paid sick pay. If you are off sick, you may qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

After the first ante-natal appointment, you will have to show your employer, if requested, a medical certificate stating that you are pregnant, and an appointment card for the ante-natal care. 

If your employer refuses time off or refuses to pay for time off

If your employer refuses to allow time off for an ante-natal care appointment or refuses to pay, you can complain to an employment tribunal within 3 months of the appointment. The tribunal may tell your employer to pay the wages they have withheld.

If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal you should consult your union representative or, if you are not a union member, an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Visit Our advice for you to find out how you can get in touch with us, including by email.

Right to accompany to ante-natal appointments

If you’re the husband or partner of a pregnant woman, you will be able to accompany her to up to two ante-natal appointments. You will also be entitled to this if you’re surrogate parents who meet the conditions for, and intend to apply for, a parental order for a child born through a surrogacy arrangement.

You will be able to take unpaid leave for up to two of the woman’s ante-natal appointments, with a maximum of 6 hours and 30 minutes for each appointment. This right applies to employees from the first day of their employment and to some agency workers.

There is more information on ante-natal appointment rights on the GOV.UK website.

Right to work in a safe environment

An employer has a legal duty to make the working environment safe for all employees, particularly for women of childbearing age. This means that the employer must assess what health and safety risks there are in the workplace, and specifically, what risks may be posed to pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding and women who have given birth in the past six months.

Where there is a health and safety risk in the workplace, your employer must take action to eliminate the risk by:

  • taking any legal action required, for example, ensuring that you don't come into contact with hazardous chemicals
  • altering your working conditions or hours of work so you are not put at risk - for example:
    • a shop assistant could be given a chair so she does not have to stand for long periods
    • a woman working at a computer could be given a more comfortable chair or more breaks
    • a woman whose job entails some lifting could have someone else do the lifting for her
  • if altering your working conditions or hours is not possible, the employer must consider offering you different work at the same pay
  • if offering you different work is not possible, your employer must suspend you on medical grounds and pay you full pay while you are suspended

If you are a pregnant woman or have recently given birth or are breastfeeding and you think you are at risk through health and safety problems at your workplace, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Visit Our advice for you to find out how you can get in touch with us, including by email.

You can find more information about breastfeeding when you return to work from the national charity Maternity Action. 

Dismissal or discrimination because of pregnancy

If you are dismissed or treated unfairly because of pregnancy, you can make a claim for discrimination and unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal (Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland). It does not matter how long you have worked for your employer or whether you work full or part-time. This is because the law says that it is discrimination and automatically unfair to dismiss a woman because she is pregnant.

For more information about unfair dismissal, see Dismissal

You can also read more about discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity.

If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal you should consult your union representative or, if you are not a union member, an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Visit Our advice for you to find out how you can get in touch with us, including by email.

The effect of dismissal for pregnancy on other maternity rights

Dismissal because of pregnancy does not affect your entitlement to any of the other maternity rights. If you qualify for statutory maternity pay and for the right to return to work, you will still qualify if you are dismissed because you are pregnant.

Maternity leave

Most female employees have the right to take up to one year’s (52 weeks’) maternity leave. This does not depend on how long you have worked for your employer.

Read our more detailed information about maternity leave.

Maternity pay

Read our more detailed information about what maternity pay you're entitled to

Tax credits

You can claim Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit if you are receiving statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance. You can claim Child Tax Credit if you already have a child, or once the new baby is born if it is your first child.

For more information about tax credits, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

Social security benefits

Maternity Allowance

If you do not qualify for statutory maternity pay, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance. This is a benefit paid by the Department for Work and Pensions.

For information about Maternity Allowance, see Benefits for families and children.

Income Support

If you are on maternity leave you may be able to claim Income Support if your income is below Income Support level. This may apply even if you are getting statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance.

For information, see Help for people on a low income - Income Support.

If you are entitled to Income Support you may also be entitled to a lump sum payment for maternity needs from the Social Fund.

Help with bills and budgeting

If you're having trouble keeping up with payments or want to cut your spending, see our advice on getting help with bills. Use our budgeting tool to see exactly where your money goes each month.

For information, see Help for people on a low income - the Social Fund.

Further information

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website has more information on the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers.

Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland only)

In Northern Ireland, employees and employers can find more information about their rights and responsibilities on the Department for Employment and Learning website.

Maternity Action

Employees and employers can contact Maternity Action for more information about their rights and responsibilities. You can call a helpline that gives advice and information about rights and entitlements during pregnancy, maternity leave and returning to work. There are also free factsheets you can download from their website.

Telephone: 0845 600 8533 (Wednesday: 3pm to 7pm; Thursday: 3pm to 7pm; Friday: 10am to 2pm).
Website: www.maternityaction.org.uk.

Working Families

Working Families helps parents and employers find a better balance between home and work life. It provides factsheets and advice on family-friendly rights and runs a helpline for families on low incomes. This offers advice on legal rights, benefits and working family-friendly hours.

Cambridge House
1 Addington Square
London
SE5 0HF

Low income families helpline: 0300 012 0312
Email for advice: advice@workingfamilies.org.uk
Email: office@workingfamilies.org.uk (admin only)
Website: www.workingfamilies.org.uk

Rights of Women (England and Wales only)

Rights of Women is a women's voluntary organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women about their legal rights. It has free confidential advice lines that give specialist advice on family law, divorce, relationship breakdown, children and contact issues, domestic and sexual violence, discrimination and lesbian parenting.

52-54 Featherstone Street
London
EC1 8RT

Telephone: 020 7251 6575 (admin only)
Textphone: 020 7490 2562

Family law advice line: 020 7251 6577 (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 7pm to 9pm; Friday 12 noon to 2pm)

Criminal law advice line: 020 7251 8887 (Tuesday 11am to 1pm)

Immigration and asylum law advice line: 020 7490 7689 (Monday 12 noon to 3pm; Thursday 10am to 1pm)

Ascent advice line for women and advisers in London

Family law advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Monday 11am to 1pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 2pm to 4pm)

Criminal law and sexual violence advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Thursday 2pm to 4pm)

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

England, Wales and Scotland

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

More about the EASS helpline

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Advice on pregnancy and maternity rights is also available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, advice on pregnancy and maternity rights is available from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.