Family friendly rights: Part 1 – this month’s changes to unpaid parental leave

On 8 March the right to unpaid parental leave will be extended to comply with an EU Directive.

Current position

Under existing law parents have the right to take a certain amount of unpaid parental leave to care for their children, in addition to any maternity, paternity or adoption leave they may qualify for.  In most cases ths is currently an entitlement to 13 weeks’ leave per child, which can be taken before a child’s 5th birthday or the 5th anniversary of their placement for adoption; in the case of a child eligible for a disability living allowance, the entitlement is to 18 weeks’ leave to be taken at any time before the 18th birthday.

What is changing?

On 8 March 2013 leave entitlements for many employees will change as the Parental Leave (EU Directive) Regulations 2013 take effect.

The key change which the Regulations will implement (to comply with the European Directive) is to extend the total period of unpaid leave available to 18 weeks per parent per child in respect of all children.  Explicitly the right will also extend to agency workers. 

The change is being made to implement the revised EU Parental Leave Directive which, itself, gives effect to a framework agreement negotiated by employer and employee representative bodies. Originally the Directive was due for implementation in March 2012.  However, the Government decided to take advantage of a period of 12 months’ grace available under the Directive to defer making the change.

On the distant horizon

Much further into the future, the Government plans to relax the age restrictions on taking unpaid parental leave.  From 2015, all parents will have until the child’s 18th birthday to take their leave entitlement, creating a much wider window of opportunity, rather than the current 5th birthday.