Know Your Rights: Parental leave

14 Mar, 2024

PFEW Equality Lead Ian Saunders highlights how police officers can use parental leave and how it works.

13 March 2024

Parental leave is a benefit available to all police officers, but few make use of it. I suspect the main reason for this is it is unpaid leave – a concept that many cops have an issue with – but don’t let that put you off reading on. It is actually a very useful entitlement that might be right for you in some circumstances either now or in the future.

If you have children you are entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for each child, which can be used any time before their eighteenth birthday. Both parents get 18 weeks each for every child, and if you adopt you get it from date of adoption as well. Parental leave can be used in order that you can “be absent from work, for the purpose of caring for that child” – and that is a very wide set of circumstances.

It could be you are going through a separation and have unexpected caring responsibilities at short notice. Your mind might initially turn to thinking about reducing your hours at work and requesting a flexible working plan, but if you have a sudden change of circumstances, reducing your hours by taking this type of leave might be a better short to medium-term option until things stabilise. Many forces are notoriously bad at sorting out flexible working in a timely manner, whereas parental leave can be arranged within a few weeks. 

An added benefit is that parental leave is reckonable for the purposes of annual leave entitlement. So, unlike part-time working where if you reduced your hours to say 75 per cent then your annual leave would also reduce by 25 per cent, if you take parental leave instead, your annual leave for that year remains unchanged. For example, you could take six weeks’ parental leave over the summer holidays and use your normal full annual leave entitlement for the other school holidays in the year. You could do this for three years, but if you have two kids you can do it for six years and so on.

Coping with the fact you have no pay for six weeks in the summer – whereas if you were part time this would be spread out across the year – might take some planning, but in return you get the certainty of the time off when you want it and can take off longer periods at once.

If your domestic circumstances change quickly and you are struggling to cope, taking every set of nights off as parental leave for the next year, or taking off some of the school holidays, is likely to be a quicker and simpler solution than going to 75 per cent hours and trying to negotiate a flexible working plan with the force.

A year on, the world might look very different and is a better time to put in place long-term solutions. The other additional benefit for police officers parental leave is very flexible. For our police staff colleagues (and all other employees in the country) they can take a maximum of four weeks a year and it must be in week-long blocks. For police officers, there is no limit on the amount you can take in a year, and you can take it in days rather than weeks.

Here is the cherry on top: parental leave is an “entitlement” the chief constable “shall” grant you as long as you give 21 days’ notice of when you intend to take it. Unlike your annual leave, which you make an application to take, for parental leave you give notice to the force of when you are taking it.

This is a massive benefit compared to other options. Often a manager receiving a notification of parental leave may want to review or decline it based on operational need or force policies restricting the numbers of people that can take annual leave at once. The reality is however you are not asking but telling when you will be away on unpaid leave – staffing issues are the force’s concern, not yours. If you come across such issues your Fed rep can help you.

All types of leave in the police service (except maternity leave) are subject to exigencies of duty, but this is a very high threshold for the force to meet, and the force cannot deny a notification of intent to take parental leave but can merely push it back until the exigency has passed.

I’ve used an example of a sudden need to take parental leave whilst explaining it in this article, however, as long as the need is there to look after a child then you too can use parental leave in a variety of circumstances. For example, if you normally rely on your parents to look after their grandchildren, but they are going on holiday, then you can take a week of parental leave even if the force won’t accept an annual leave application for those dates.

Finally, I bet a few of you (probably without children) are thinking “this doesn’t sound very fair on other people”. And you are right – but it is not meant to be fair. When the Government legislated to provide this and other types of leave (for example, time off to care for dependants) it gave extra rights to people with children on purpose. This does place a burden on employers: that too is deliberate, and it is for the force to manage it.

Family leave such as this is designed to give people rights to unpaid time off so they can juggle work and home life and stay employed. Even the smallest force is a large employer, and they should be allocating their resources accordingly.

Parental leave is an entitlement that is rarely taken up by police officers and forces should do more to actively encourage it as it is a tool for retention of officers with childcare commitments.