What family friendly employment rights are employees entitled to?

Morton Fraser Partner Innes Clark
Innes Clark
31 March 2023

Starting a family is generally a very exciting time in a person's life. However, it can also be daunting particularly when you are trying to juggle family life with working life. There are though a number of rights which are afforded to employees in order to help them balance their working life with the requirements of bringing up a child. Such rights are continually being varied in line with new working practices and changes to the modern day family.

Maternity leave and pay

All employees, regardless of how long they have worked for their employer, are entitled to maternity leave. Ordinary maternity leave (OML) lasts for 26 weeks, including 2 weeks of compulsory maternity leave which the employee must take. Certain notification requirements must be met in order to enjoy the right. If an employee qualifies for OML they will also qualify for additional maternity leave which lasts for a further 26 weeks.

An employee is not, unless their contract provides otherwise, entitled to their normal rate of pay during OML or AML and instead may be eligible for statutory maternity pay (SMP) for a period of 39 weeks in total. During the first 6 weeks of maternity leave the employee is entitled to the "earnings-related rate" which is 90% of her normal weekly earnings. For the remaining 33 weeks, the employee would receive the "prescribed rate" which is the lesser of 90% of her average earnings and £172.48 (the current SMP rate).

In addition to the above rights pregnant employees have the right to take paid time off to attend ante-natal care classes qualifying employees and workers are able to accompany the mother to some ante-natal care appointments. There is also the right to take adoption leave, in certain circumstances.

Paternity leave and pay

Fathers are entitled to up to 2 weeks of paternity leave within 56 days of the birth of their child. The employee must either take 1 week or 2 consecutive weeks. To qualify for paternity, the father must have worked with his employer for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. This right applies to not only the child's biological father, but also to the mother's husband, civil partner or partner at the time.

The employee may also be eligible to receive statutory paternity pay which is the lesser of 90% of their average weekly earnings and £172.48 (the current statutory paternity pay rate).

Parental leave

This allows employees to take unpaid time off from work to care for their child or make arrangements for the child's well-being. Parents can take up to 18 weeks (per child) off work, provided that the child is under 18. In addition the employee must have been working for their employer for at least a year before making a request to take parental leave.

The employee must give their employer at least 21 days notice of their wish to take parental leave. The statutory scheme only allows an employee to take leave in blocks of 1 week and up to a maximum of 4 weeks' parental leave can be taken in any one year. However, this default position can be amended by agreement between the employer and employee to allow the employee to take parental leave in blocks of less than a week. The employer is entitled to postpone the taking of leave for up to 6 months, where the employee's absence is likely to harm the business.

Shared parental leave

Shared parental leave (SPL) is available to eligible parents where their baby was due to be born on or after 5 April 2015, or for parents of children who were due to be placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015. This right is unrelated to and does not affect Parental leave (referred to above).

A mother or primary adopter is entitled to 52 weeks of maternity/adoption leave.  SPL allows the mother or primary adopter to give notice to bring that leave to an end early and share what would have been the remainder of the maternity/adoption leave with the child's father or the mother's husband or civil partner or partner; or, in the case of adoption, the secondary adopter (the "other parent"). The mother's partner for these purposes is a person (whether of a different sex or the same sex) who lives with the mother and with the child in an enduring family relationship but is not the mother's child, parent, grandchild, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew.

A mother must still take her two weeks compulsory maternity leave and the primary adopter must similarly take two weeks' adoption leave. The other parent who has caring responsibilities for the child is entitled to take their two weeks' ordinary paternity leave. However, the other parent must take their paternity leave prior to any SPL as otherwise they will lose their entitlement to paternity leave. 

There are various qualification requirements and Shared parental pay is available. For further details see:-

Shared parental leave

Time off for dependents

Employees are able to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off in the event of an emergency or if something unexpected occurs, such as if an employee's childcare falls through. All employees are entitled to this time off, regardless of how long they have worked for their employer. The situation must involve a dependent who, in addition to a child, may be the employee's spouse, civil partner, parent or a person living in the same household who is not their employee, tenant, lodger or boarder. If the employee was aware of the event in advance, they are not generally entitled to exercise this right.

Flexible working

The right to request flexible working is available to all employees.

An employee must have at least 26 weeks' continuous service in order to qualify for the right, and can still only make one application within any 12 month period. The employer is only able to refuse a request for flexible working on certain grounds. It should be noted that employees do not have an automatic right to flexible working but rather a right to make a request to the employer.

In order to make a request the employee must submit a written request to their employer stating that it is an application made under the statutory procedure. The application must be dated, specify the change(s) that the employee is seeking and when the employee wishes it to take effect. The employee must also address any effects this change would have on the employer's business and how such issues could be dealt with. They should also state whether they have made an application  before and, if so, when it was made.

The employer has a duty to deal with any request in a reasonable manner, and to issue a decision within three months from the date of the application unless a longer period has been agreed. Acas have produced a Code of Practice on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly. Employers should follow the Code as far as possible when dealing with flexible working requests as Employment Tribunals must take it into consideration when deciding whether a request was handled reasonably.

An employer may only refuse a request to work flexibly where the employee is ineligible to make the request; or the application does not comply with the statutory requirements; or for one the following prescribed reasons:

  • The burden of additional costs
  • The detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • The inability to re-organise work among existing staff
  • The inability to recruit additional staff
  • The detrimental impact on quality
  • The detrimental impact on performance
  • The insufficiency of work during the periods that the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes.

The main risk for employers is the possibility of a discrimination claim arising out of a refusal to grant a flexible working request.

Parental bereavement leave and pay

The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Act 2018 entitles employees who find themselves in the tragic situation of having lost a child under the age of 18 to have 2 weeks' bereavement leave and, for those with the necessary 26 weeks qualifying service, paid leave.   The leave can be taken as one two week period, two separate periods of one week, or as one single week.  The leave can start on or after the date of the death or still birth, and must finish within 56 weeks of the death or still birth.  


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