Whilst like paid annual leave, unpaid leave is more commonly known as being at the employer’s discretion, there are two areas where unpaid leave is protected by law.

Outside of these two areas, unpaid leave is at the employer’s discretion.


Unpaid Leave for Parents

Those eligible for unpaid leave are employees who need to take leave to look after a child’s welfare.

Under the Government guidelines, parents can take leave for the following circumstances:

Unpaid parental leave entitles eligible employees to take up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child or adopted child, up until the children reach the age of 18 years old.

Employees are limited to 4 weeks in each year for each child, and leave must be taken in full weeks, rather than in individual days.


Employees Eligibility

In December 2014, shared parental leave came into force, which enabled employees to choose how they can share their time off work following the birth or adoption of a child.

This type of leave supported employees with the flexibility on how they could share the caring responsibilities, and in some cases their financial requirements.

The entitlement allows employees to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay, along with the opportunity to be off together or stagger leave to ensure one parent/guardian is with their child in the infants the first year.

Whilst from an employer point of view, it can be frustrating and come with operational impact, it is extremely important to understand the employee rights, and be fully aware of the employee’s needs, to support them, not forgetting that the employees/parents are entitled to the above for each child, not just the individual’s job, and any parental leave can be carried over to a new employer, should the employee change employers.

As an example…

If an employee used 7 weeks for parental unpaid leave with a previous employer, they could only have 11 weeks with their new employer once they are eligible, and this information can be included in a factual employment reference.


Public Duties

Employees are also legally entitled to request time off for certain public duties, as well as their normal holiday entitlement. As an employer, you can choose to pay them for their time off, but it is not compulsory.

All employees must be granted time off for jury service, but they can also get a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off for:


What Counts As Reasonable Time Off?

The amount of time off needs to be agreed between the employee and employer before attendance based on:

As an employer the time off can be refused if the employee is:

Or if the employer feels the time off is unreasonable.

All the above can request time off for jury duties, and an employer cannot refuse time off for this, neither are they obliged to pay for the time taken off for jury service. Jury service can be claimed by the employee for a loss of earnings through the courts.


Other Reasons an Employee Can Request for Unpaid Leave

There is a variety of reasons an employee can request for unpaid leave, which is at the discretion of the employer.

Here are some examples:

There must be business expectations communicated to all those required, such as managers or SME owners and HR Departments who agree time off, are aware of the existing presidency and of setting precedence and communicating these, to ensure consistency and reduce grievances within the workforce.

At Wurkplace, we would recommend that as well as a holiday policy, that any business also implements a dependency and or unpaid leave policy. This way the employees will have it laid out to them what their entitlement is and will also help create a fairer approach to time off.


Can Unpaid Leave Have an Impact on The Business Culture?

It is important to understand that whilst having an unpaid leave policy can be helpful for employees, a business and managers need to understand that some groups of employees may need to use the facility more than others.

This can come with a risk of creating an unfair balance in the business, especially if unpaid leave is the answer to all medical appointments and family-related requests.

In circumstances of disabled employees and those with chronic health conditions will potentially need more time off for attendance to appointments.

Also, despite a new era of equal opportunity and diversity, in society today more than often women are still the primary caregivers in many families.

This can mean that they may request more unpaid leave than the males in your business, this could also result in a pay gap and culture that is focused on the able-bodied and child-free employees.

We strongly recommend implementing other supportive approaches such as a flexible policy. This can help employees balance either their medical or care duties, avoiding the need to take unpaid leave.

Wurkplace has seen a more positive, productive, and inclusive workforce through our experiences and client’s businesses.

An approach to flexible working could be from home working, flexible hours, a flexible approach to the working culture that can reduce the need and amount of unpaid leave hours/days, increasing more man-hours out of loyalty for their employers. This will help improve employee financial well-being and support a positive business culture.

For further advice and guidance, please contact Wurkplace’s HR support team directly to review your current business needs, such as high amounts of unpaid leave, absence leave patterns, and implementation of policies and procedures through our business support model.

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