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Leaves and time off in UK

Employees in the UK are entitled to a certain amount of paid time off by law. Employers can also choose to grant their UK employees additional unpaid or paid time off work, which can be a valuable employee benefit. In this guide, we’ll discuss the UK paid time off laws and entitlements that you need to be aware of as an employer, including the various types of leave you can offer to your employees.

Leaves in the UK

UK employment law grants employees the right to various different types of leave. Each UK employer should also have its own leave policy defining any additional entitlements and how different types of leave should be taken. Below, we’ll discuss some of the different types of unpaid and paid time off that you should know about as an employer in the UK. 

Annual leave

Employees in the UK have the right to 5.6 weeks of paid leave each year, which amounts to 28 days for full-time employees, which includes eight public holidays. For part-time employees, annual leave is calculated on a pro-rata basis. For example, someone who normally works three days per week would be entitled to 16.8 days’ holiday, which is equivalent to 5.6 working weeks. 

Workers begin accruing annual leave as soon as they start a job. Employers can use an accrual system to work out how much leave an employee is entitled to during their first year of employment. Technically, they are entitled to one-twelfth of their annual leave each month, but employers may let employees take this leave before they have accrued it. 

Workers may be able to carry over unused leave into the next year. However, they can’t carry over more than 8 days’ leave if they get 28 days’ leave (the statutory minimum). If your annual leave policy grants employees more than 28 days’ leave, you should also decide how much leave you’ll allow them to carry over. 

When a worker leaves a job, their employer should work out how much leave they have left based on how much of the year has passed or how much leave they have accrued. If the employee has taken more leave than they’re entitled to, the employer can only deduct this amount from the employee’s final pay if there’s an agreement with the employee. However, employers have to pay for leave the employee is entitled to and hasn’t yet taken. 

Annual leave for workers on irregular schedules

Employees or workers who work on irregular schedules don’t get a set amount of annual leave per year. Instead, they accrue leave based on the hours they have already worked in a pay period. Employees can’t accrue more than the statutory entitlement of 5.6 weeks, even if they work more than 40 hours per week. 

UK sick leave policy 

All workers in the UK are entitled to time off work when they are sick. Employees and most groups of workers are also eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). If they’re off for more than seven days, employees have to give their employee a ‘fit note’ (sick note) from a doctor or other healthcare professional. Annual leave and sick leave Employees who are off work sick still continue to accrue annual leave. They can also carry over annual leave to the next year if they were not able to use it because they were sick. If an employee becomes ill while they’re on annual leave, they can switch to sick leave instead. Their employer shouldn’t deduct the days they are sick from their annual leave balance. In this situation, the employee should be paid Statutory Sick Pay instead of their normal holiday pay. 

Statutory sick pay

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is the minimum amount employers in the UK have to pay to employees while they’re off sick. Employees don’t usually get paid SSP for the first three days they’re off sick. After that, the statutory minimum an employee can pay is £116.75 per week, which is payable for up to 16 weeks.

Maternity and paternity leave UK

Employees in the UK are entitled to time off work if they or their partner has a baby. There are various types of leave that apply in this situation, including maternity, paternity and shared parental leave. 

Statutory Maternity Leave

UK employees have the right to take up to 52 weeks off work when they have a baby. That means their employer has to keep their job open for them until they return to work. During their maternity leave, employees also continue to accrue annual leave and retain the right to get a pay rise if they would have got one if they weren’t on leave. 

Employees don’t have to use their full 52 weeks of maternity leave. However, they do have to take at least two weeks’ leave after giving birth (or four weeks if they work in a factory). The 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave are made up of: 

  • 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave
  • 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave 

The earliest an employee can start their maternity leave is usually 11 weeks before their due date. If the baby is born early, maternity leave will automatically start the day after the birth. Maternity leave also starts automatically if an employee is off work because of a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before their due date. 

Statutory Paternity Leave

Fathers and secondary caregivers have the right to one or two weeks off work when their partner has a baby. From April 2024, they can take this leave in two separate blocks of one week if they choose to take two weeks’ leave. Paternity leave can’t start before the baby is born and must start within 52 weeks of the birth. Partners of birthing parents are also entitled to time off work to attend two antenatal appointments with their partner. 

To be eligible for paternity leave, an employee must be either: 

  • The father of the child
  • The partner of the mother or adopter
  • The adopter
  • The intended parent (for surrogacy arrangements) 

They must also be an employee (not a worker) who has been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks before the ‘reference week’, which is 15 weeks before a baby is due. There are additional requirements to receive paternity pay. 

Statutory Shared Parental Leave

Shared parental leave is a scheme that allows mothers to give up part of their maternity or adoption leave in order to share it with their partner. Only employees (and not workers) are entitled to Shared Parental Leave. There are also other requirements that both parties have to meet if a couple wants to share the parental leave between them. 

Employees can choose to take Shared Parental Leave in up to three separate blocks (per person) of at least one week each. They have to tell their employer about their plans for taking their leave when they apply for it, and give notice at least eight weeks when they want to take a block of leave. 

Parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave between them, which is taken off the balance of Statutory Maternity Pay that a mother is entitled to. For example, if an employee decided to take 20 weeks maternity leave, they would be able to share the remaining 30 weeks with their partner as Shared Parental Leave. 

Pay for maternity, paternity and parental leave

Maternity, paternity and parental leave in the UK isn’t necessarily paid, as there are different eligibility requirements for leave and pay. If employees are eligible for pay, the minimum amount an employer can pay them depends on the type of leave they are taking and what they usually earn. Employers can also choose to top up their employees’ maternity, paternity or parental pay or to pay it for longer than the statutory minimum period. This is known as occupational maternity (or paternity or parental) pay. 

The standard rate of pay for maternity, paternity and shared parental leave is either £184.03 per week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). The exception to this is Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), which is 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, and then the above for the following 33 weeks. Statutory Maternity Pay stops after 39 weeks, even if the employee continues their maternity leave.

Adoption leave UK

Adoption leave in the UK works similarly to maternity leave. Employees who adopt a child can take up to 52 weeks’ leave. If a couple adopts a child, only one of them can take adoption leave. The other person may be able to take paternity leave instead. 

Statutory Adoption Leave

Like maternity leave, Statutory Adoption Leave in the UK is made up of: 

  • 26 weeks of Ordinary Adoption Leave
  • 26 weeks of Additional Adoption Leave 

The date adoption leave can start depends on whether it is a UK adoption, an overseas adoption or an adoption from a surrogate. Adoption leave can start: 

  • Up to 14 days before the child starts living with the employee (for UK adoptions)
  • Within 28 days of the child arriving in the UK (for overseas adoptions)
  • The day after the child is born (for parents using a surrogate) 

Eligibility for adoption leave in the UK

There are certain criteria that employees have to meet to get Statutory Adoption Leave in the UK. Specifically, they must: 

  • Be an employee, not a worker
  • Give the correct notice to their employer
  • Provide proof of the adoption or surrogacy if requested

Statutory Adoption Pay

To get Statutory Adoption Pay, employees have to meet the above conditions, and:

  • Have been continuously employed by the same employer for 26 weeks or more
  • Earn at least £123 per week on average
  • Give the correct notice to their employer
  • Provide proof of the adoption or surrogacy 

Like Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay must be paid to eligible employees for up to 39 weeks. The statutory minimum pay is also the same as SMP, which is: 

  • 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for six weeks
  • Whichever is lower of £184.03 or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the remaining 33 weeks 

Employers can choose to give their employees additional adoption leave or pay by creating a more generous adoption leave policy. However, they can’t give them less than their statutory entitlements. 

Shared Parental Leave for employees adopting children

Employees who are adopting a child may also qualify for Shared Parental Leave, assuming that:

  • Both parents meet the work and earnings criteria
  • Both parents will share responsibility for the child

Other employee leave options

Annual leave, sick leave, maternity, paternity and parental leave are just some of the types of leave that employers are required to provide to their employees in the UK. There are also other employee leave options that employers don’t have to offer, but can choose to provide as an additional benefit. 

Carer’s leave

Employees in the UK are entitled to unpaid carer’s leave from their first day of employment. They can take up to one week of leave a year to take care of a dependent who needs care because of an illness or injury, a disability or old age. 

Paid time off work for antenatal care

A recent change to the law means that employees in the UK will soon be entitled to up to 12 weeks paid leave if their baby requires specialist neonatal care after birth. This is in addition to any other leave the employee is already entitled to, such as maternity, paternity or shared parental leave. This new law is expected to come into effect in 2025. 

Bereavement leave

There is no specific requirement for UK employers to grant their employees bereavement leave. However, you can choose to add a bereavement clause to your leave policy. Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave is a type of leave reserved for parents of children who have died and parents of stillborn babies. Employees have the right to up to two weeks of paid Parental Bereavement Pay. 

Time off for jury service

Employers in the UK have to give their employees time off if they are called to jury duty. This leave does not necessarily have to be paid, but many employers choose to continue paying their employees while they’re on leave. If you don’t pay your employee, they can claim a loss of earnings allowance. You can then choose to top up this allowance, so the employee receives their normal rate of pay. 

Time off for public duties

Employees can also get reasonable time off work for certain public duties, including if they’re: 

  • A magistrate
  • A local councillor
  • A school governor
  • A trade union member
  • A member of a health authority 

You don’t have to pay your employer for the time they take off work to fulfil these duties, but you can if you want to. If one of your employees holds a role listed above, you should work with them to determine what counts as ‘reasonable time off’. 

Time off for training or studying

Some employees in the UK can ask for time off for training or studying. Generally, this is only allowed if the training will help them to do their job better, and if they have been employed by their employer for at least 26 weeks. The employer also needs to have a headcount of at least 250, and the member of staff in question must be an employee (not a worker). 

Each organisation should have its own rules about how employees should ask for time off to study. Generally, employees should give their employer enough notice to properly review the request, and employers should respond within 28 days. Time off for training or studying is not usually paid, though employers can choose to pay if they want to.

Public holidays UK

In the UK, public holidays are usually referred to as ‘bank holidays’. There are usually eight bank holidays in each year. If a public holiday falls on a weekend, a substitute weekday automatically becomes a bank holiday instead. This is usually the following Monday. Occasionally, additional bank holidays are announced. For example, 5 May 2023 was given as an extra bank holiday to mark the King’s coronation. 

Do employees get paid for public holidays in the UK?

In the UK, public holidays don’t have to be given as paid leave. If an employer gives their employees bank holidays as paid leave, they can choose to include them as part of their statutory entitlement to 5.6 weeks of annual leave. 

However, some employers do give their employees paid time off on bank holidays in addition to their statutory leave. This can be a valuable additional benefit that can help you attract and retain talent in the UK. 

UK public holidays in 2024

In most years, there are eight bank holidays in the UK. Here are the public holidays observed in 2024:

1 January
New Year’s Day
29 March
Good Friday
1 April
Easter Monday
6 May
Early May Bank Holiday
27 May
Spring Bank Holiday
25 December
Christmas Day
26 December
Boxing Day

Protect your employees and your business

As an employer in the UK, you need to understand your employees’ rights and entitlements. But keeping up with them can be a lot of work. 

When you hire workers with CXC, we’ll ensure your engagements are in line with all local, national and international employment regulations. That way, your workers will get their benefits they’re entitled to, and your business will be protected from risk.

Compliantly hire employees anywhere with CXC

With our EoR solution, you can engage workers anywhere in the world, without putting your business at risk. No more worrying about local labour laws, tax legislation or payroll customs — we’ve got you covered.

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