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A quick guide to family leave and pay entitlements in the UK

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The latest announcement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they are expecting their first child and the recent return of the Duchess of Cambridge from her maternity break demonstrate that the Royal Family, similarly to other British parents, is not a stranger to tackling a wide range of parental responsibilities along with their official duties.

This prompted us to set out the main entitlements in relation to family leave and pay available to working parents under the UK laws.

Provided that the employee meets specific eligibility criteria, they have the right to the following:

  • Statutory Maternity Leave (SML): Women can take up to 52 weeks of SML. It is made up of Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks) and Additional Maternity Leave (weeks 27 to 52). SML is not compulsory apart from the first two weeks after the baby is born (or four weeks if the woman works in a factory). Whilst on SML women can claim:
    • Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP): It is paid for up to 39 weeks and is 90 per cent of the employee’s average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks followed by the lower of £145.18 or 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings for the next 33 weeks.
    • Maternity Allowance: It is payable by the government and applies to those employees who do not qualify for SMP.
    • Company enhanced maternity pay: Many employers voluntarily offer more generous maternity pay arrangements which eligible employees can claim.

Women adopting a child or having a child through surrogacy are not entitled to SML but can get Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay instead.

  • Shared Parental Leave (ShPL): This enables parents having a baby or adopting a child to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. ShPL is paid at the lower rate of SMP (i.e.£145.18 a week or 90 per cent of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower).
  • Paternity Leave and Pay: Paternity Leave is a period of either one or two consecutive weeks that fathers (or partners) can take off from work to care for their baby or child. The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay is £145.18 or 90 per cent of the employee’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
  • Parental leave: This is unpaid. It can be taken for up to 18 weeks to look after a child up to their 18th birthday. Unless agreed otherwise with the employer it can only be taken up to four weeks for each child in a year.
  • Time off for dependants: Employees are allowed time off to deal with emergency situations (e.g. a hospital appointment) involving a dependant. A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on the employee for care. It is unpaid unless the employer agrees otherwise. There is no set amount of time that can be requested by the employee to deal with emergency situations although it should to be exercised in a reasonable manner, which usually equates to one or two days.
  • Flexible working: Employees who have 26 weeks’ continuous employment are entitled to make a request for flexible working. Flexible working can include a wide range of options, such as reduction of hours, job-sharing, working from home, working compressed hours, flexitime or term-time working.

Many employers recognise that the statutory entitlements are no longer sufficient in many sectors to attract a skilled and qualified workforce. In the circumstances they are prepared to offer their employees a wide range of family-friendly benefits, enhanced levels of family leave and pay, as well as flexibility in their working arrangements. No matter what option the employer chooses, it is important that they have clear family policies in place outlining the relevant process and eligibility criteria and that those policies are applied consistently across the organisation.