Leave at Work

First published on Thursday, May 25, 2023

Last updated on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2024

As an employer, there will be times when some of your employees require time away from the company.

And when this happens, it's important you're familiar with the different types of leave your employees can take. Not doing so can lead to claims being raised.

In this guide, we'll discuss what leave at work is, the different types available, and how to manage it in your company.

What is Leave at Work?

Taking leave is when an employee spends time away from the company during their normal working hours. Some types of leave are legal entitlements, whereas some are purely contractual and at the discretion of the employer.

It's important you understand the different types of leaves available and your legal obligations as an employer. Failure to stick to them can leave you facing claims at an employment tribunal.

Different Types of Leave at Work

There are different types of leaves that can account for employee absence in the UK. So as an employer, you should become familiar with them. During their working lives, your employees will have to deal with a range of circumstances that'll affect their ability to attend work.

So, let's discuss each type of leave in more detail:

Adoption Leave

Adoption leave is time off available for an employee to adopt a child or to have a child through surrogacy. Employees on adoption leave may be eligible to receive statutory adoption leave or statutory adoption pay.

To be eligible for up to 52 weeks of adoption leave, the following criteria must be met:

  • Be legally classed as an employee.
  • Give the employer the correct notice period.
  • Be able to provide the employer with proof they're adopting or fostering a child (if they ask for it).
  • Be matched with a child through an adoption agency, unless it’s a surrogacy arrangement.

To be eligible for adoption pay, the following criteria must be met:

  • Be continuously employed for at least 26 weeks.
  • Earn at least £123 a week on average before tax for at least eight weeks before the week they are matched.
  • Be able to give proof they're adopting or fostering a child, and give the correct notice.

Annual Leave

Annual leave is statutory leave that is compensated with pay from the employer. This paid leave must be provided to your employees.

Your employees have the right to paid holiday each year. It's the employers 'discretion as to whether this includes bank holidays or not.

Bank Holidays

Employers aren't entitled to provide employees with paid holiday for bank holidays unless there is a contractual requirement. It's up to you as the employer if you provide this to your staff. The following days are public or bank holidays in the UK:

  • New Year's Day.
  • Good Friday.
  • Easter Monday.
  • Christmas Day.
  • Boxing Day.
  • Early May bank holiday,
  • Spring bank holiday.
  • Summer bank holiday.

Sometimes an extra bank holiday is granted, for example for a coronation.

A person visibly ill in need of sick leave

Career Break

Employees don't have a legal entitlement to take career breaks, unless there’s a contractual entitlement. However, they can ask to take one for the following reasons:

  • To study.
  • Family commitments.
  • Travelling.
  • Volunteering.

As the employer, it's advisable you create a career break policy so all your employees know the rules when they start employment. This will help to avoid conflict in the future.

Compassionate Leave or Bereavement leave

Most employees will experience the death of someone close to them during their working lives. Compassionate or bereavement leave can be given to an employee following the loss of a family member or for life-changing emergencies.

If an employee suffers the loss of a child, they are entitled to statutory parental bereavement leave, if they are eligible. This is if the child is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy or if the child dies before the age of 18.

Your employees can take one or two weeks for parental bereavement leave.

Most employers choose to pay staff during bereavement leave. How much you choose to pay an employee during bereavement leave should be included in the employee's contract.

You may also provide your employees with time off for dependants. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, a reasonable amount of unpaid time off should be given to an employee to deal with emergencies involving their dependents. How much leave they have is up to you, however this will depend on the circumstances.

If a dependent dies, an employee can have time off to arrange the funeral.

A dependant could be:

  • Husband, wife or civil partner.
  • Their child.
  • Their parent.
  • Someone who lives in the same household who isn't a lodger, or a person who relies on them for care - such as an elderly neighbour.

Garden Leave

You may choose to put an employee on garden leave following their resignation. Or if they have been asked to leave the company.

This form of leave is used when an employee leaves your company to work for a competitor, or there are privacy concerns if they continue to have access to your company's systems.

We've written a guide to garden leave to give employers more information.

Leave for a Medical Appointment

As an employer, you don't have a legal obligation to provide an employee with time off to attend a medical appointment. It's completely up to you whether you provide this as paid time off or unpaid.

You should include your rules regarding this within your employment contract.

Maternity Leave

Employees are entitled to statutory maternity leave when they have a baby. This leave is 52 weeks long and consists of:

  • Ordinary maternity leave: the first 26 weeks.
  • Additional maternity leave: the last 26 weeks.

Your staff aren't required to take their full maternity leave entitlement. However, they're legally obliged to take two weeks' leave after the baby is born, or four weeks if they work in a factory.

Employees on maternity leave may be entitled to statutory maternity pay. The following requirements must be met:

  • Be legally classed as an employee.
  • Been continuously working for at least 26 weeks.
  • Earn at least £123 a week on average for eight weeks.

Your employees are also entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments.

Parental Leave

Some of your employees will be eligible to take unpaid parental leave. This can be used to look after their child's health and welfare. Reasons for this include:

  • To spend more time with their children.
  • To look at new schools.
  • To help their children settle into new childcare arrangements.
  • To spend more time with their family. For example, visiting grandparents.

If both the employee and their partner work, they may be entitled to shared parental leave. They can share up to 50 weeks' leave in total.

It's important you're aware that shared parental leave doesn't have to be taken in one block, they can split the time up into blocks if it suits them.

Paternity Leave

This form of leave is when an employee takes time away from work because their partner is having a baby, adopting a child, or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement.

Employees can take one or two weeks for paternity leave. However, this must be taken in one block.

Sick Leave

If an employee is off sick for more than seven days, then they should provide their employer with a fit note from a healthcare professional. For sick leave of fewer than seven days, self-certification is acceptable.

You may have times when employees are on long-term sick leave. This begins if someone has been off work for four weeks.

Most employees will be eligible for statutory sick pay, however they may require a fit note before they can receive it. The following criteria must also be met:

  • Have been off sick for at least four working days in a row (including non-working days).
  • Earn on average at least £123 a week before tax.
  • Have made their employer aware they're sick within any deadline that's been set out or within seven days.

Statutory sick pay is £109.40 per week, and can be paid for up to 28 weeks.

Time Off for Jury Service

You have a legal requirement to allow an employee time off if they've been called up for jury service. Not doing so is against the law.

It should be included within your employment contract if your employees will be paid whilst on jury service.

Time Off in Lieu (TOIL)

Time off in lieu is when employees are given time off for any extra hours they've worked. This is an option taken by employers instead of paying more for overtime.

It should be made clear in the employee's contract if this is the option you're going to take.

Unpaid Leave

Employees may choose to take unpaid leave, which will be deducted from their monthly salary. This is typically used if they have run out of their other leave entitlements.

It's important to remember that employees don't have any statutory rights to unpaid leave to take a study break. It's the employers' discretion if they want to offer one.

How to Manage Leave at Work

Some employers will have more generous leave policies, which make them a more desirable company to work for. But no matter how generous yours is, you should include certain elements.

Such as:

  • How to report absences.
  • Who to report absences to, such as their line manager.
  • The consequences for unauthorised absences.

Get Advice on Leave at Work with BrightHR

As an employer, there will be times when some of your employees require some time away from the company for personal reasons.

And when this happens, you should be aware of the different types of leave your employees can take. Not doing so can lead to you not staying on the right side of employment law.

If you need any advice on what leave your employees are entitled to, we are on hand to provide advice. Our BrightAdvice helpline. Give our friendly and helpful team a call on 0800 470 2432.

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