Your rights to time off

HR expert Kate Palmer explains what employers have to grant and what employees can take

Man in red sweater and glasses holding present while girl in cream jumper climbs on his back with Christmas tree in the background


Only the very luckiest working dads get enough paid holiday to match the school holidays. Generous employers might grant six weeks, the kids get more like 13 – at least!

That leaves a childcare a conundrum.

There are situations and occasions when parents are allowed time off work. But employers certainly aren’t beholden to bending to suit their employees summer holidays or Christmas plans.

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula which provides HR and health & safety support for small businesses, explains the rules around taking or granting time off.


Most employees will be familiar with their entitlement to paid annual leave. But there can often be confusion around their right to unpaid leave It is important to have a firm grasp of this.

Some employees may believe that the statutory right to time off for dependants allows them to take an unrestricted amount of unpaid time off to care for their children during the school holidays.

However, this is not the case. This right is in fact reserved for times of emergency, rather than pre-planned events. In practice it only allows for leave of one to two days.

Parental leave

However, there is the potential that some employees will be able to take a period of unpaid parental leave to look after their children.

Employees have the ability to take up to 18 weeks of parental leave for the purposes of caring for a child under the age of 18.

This right will apply in relation to each of the employee’s children and individuals will need to have at least one year’s continuous service with their current employer to qualify.

Parental leave can only usually be taken in one-week blocks unless it is required to care for a child who qualifies as disabled in which case it may be taken in blocks of a day.

The legislation also allows for a maximum of four weeks’ leave per child to be taken during a particular year. That means this is unlikely to cover the duration of the entire school summer holidays for example. However, employers may choose to let staff take more than four weeks per year if they wish.

Business needs

When requesting parental leave an employee is required to provide at least 21 days’ notice. However, this does not necessarily guarantee that the leave will be granted.

Employers have the ability to postpone requests for parental leave if they feel that business operations would be unduly disrupted. Any leave postponed must be taken within six months of the date the leave was originally requested.

Aside from these statutory rights, some employers may offer staff the ability to take additional unpaid leave for a number of circumstances, including to look after their children during the school holidays.

As this is not a statutory requirement, it will not be guaranteed. Employers will be free to set their own rules on this and these are likely to be contained within any relevant workplace policy.

In summary, parental leave offers employees the best possibility of taking unpaid time off during the school holidays.

When dealing with requests for parental leave, or for additional unpaid time off via their own workplace policy, employers should consider these with an open mind and try to ensure a favourable solution for all parties.

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