Taking time off work as a single parent

You qualify for paternity leave and pay if you are the father of a young child and expect to have responsibility for the child’s care and upbringing. The type of paternity leave you can take will depend on your circumstances. Usually the first period of leave will be ordinary paternity leave. Further leave can be taken to care for your baby as shared parental leave.

If your child’s mother has died there are special rules for paternity leave. If you are looking after your child by yourself because your partner has died you may be able to take an additional amount of parental leave and pay. As the rules are complicated please call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for advice on your specific situation.

  • Ordinary paternity leave

Ordinary paternity leave usually lasts up to two weeks and must be taken within eight weeks of your child’s birth. Your employer does not have to pay you for this leave, although they may choose to.

If you don’t get paid by your employer during paternity leave, you may receive statutory paternity pay or 90 per cent of your weekly earnings, whichever is lower. You can check your eligibility for paternity leave and pay on the gov.uk website here. This year’s amounts are given here.

  • Shared parental leave and pay

If your child’s other parent is returning to work before their 52 week maternity leave ends, you can apply to take the remaining leave as shared parental leave. Your child’s mother must have returned to work and given consent for you to use the rest of the leave. You can apply to take the leave as blocks of time off, or as one continuous period of leave.

Your employer does not have to pay your normal earnings during shared parental leave, although they may choose to. If you don’t get paid you may qualify for statutory shared parental pay (SSPP). You can find out more and check you eligibility for shared parental leave and pay here.

You have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with an emergency involving someone who depends on you. An emergency can include your child or relative falling ill or being injured, a problem with your childcare arrangements or your child being involved in an incident at school.

You should not be penalised by your employer for taking time off, as long as your reasons are genuine. Your employer does not have to pay you while you are off work.

You can only take as much time as is needed to deal with the emergency off. For example, if your child is ill and cannot attend school, you can take time off to arrange someone to care for them. You do not have the right under this rule to take extended time off work to care for them yourself. Read more about the right to take time off in an emergency here.

You are entitled to parental leave if you have a child under the age of 18, and you have at least one year’s continuous service with your employer. You must also be named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate or have legal parental responsibility. You can take up to 18 weeks parental leave for each of your children. Your employer does not have to pay you for this leave but they may choose to and they can delay this leave in some circumstances.

The purpose of parental leave is to care for your child. Examples of the way parental leave might be used include:

  • Straight after your paternity or adoption leave (providing you give the correct notice)
  • Spending more time with your child
  • Time with your child during a stay in hospital
  • Looking at new schools
  • Settling your child into new childcare arrangements
  • Allowing your family to spend more time together, for example, taking your child to stay with grandparents.

Single parents who are self-employed, a foster carer or a worker (for example an agency worker, contractor etc) are not entitled to parental leave.

For more information on parental leave and help if your employer refuses your request see this information provided by the charity Working Families.

Additional time off is often called compassionate leave and may be paid if your employer chooses to do so. Talk to your employer to see if they offer extra time off as part of your employment contract as being with your children after the death of their other parent is likely to be your top priority.

There is no legal right to compassionate leave and if your employer doesn’t offer it, you could ask for paid annual leave or consider taking sick leave if you are not fit to return to work.

If you have experienced bereavement and would like to know more about your employment rights, support for you and your family, and your benefit and tax credit entitlement, our online bereavement guide can help you. Call our helpline for detailed individual advice.

Our factsheet on rights in the workplace is a guide to your rights in the workplace and takes you through the options and how to apply to change your working hours. Working Families provides advice for working parents, particularly around flexible working and discrimination. Visit their website or call 0300 012 0312 for advice.

You may find after becoming a single dad that the hours you used to work aren’t right for you anymore. Changing or reducing your working hours so that they fit better with your role as a parent is sometimes called flexible working. The law allows employees to ask their employer to change their working hours.

Flexible working can be any number of working hours or a pattern that helps you to care for your children. For example, flexible working may include:

  • Working flexible hours, so that you can choose when to work (although there are usually some set times you have to work)
  • Compressing your hours so that you work the same hours over fewer days
  • Working from home
  • Reducing your hours
  • Starting early and finishing early.

Find out more about flexible working from gov.uk.

If you make the decision to leave work, for example to care for your family full time, manage your health, return to education – or for any other reason – you’ll need to know what kind of support your family is entitled to. Find out more in our online leaving work advice.

If you’re thinking of giving up work and claiming benefits, make sure you get advice before resigning, as different rules apply depending on where you live and the age of your child. In some cases it is possible to claim benefits immediately, but other situations can be more complicated and you may struggle to support your family financially.

For advice on your individual situation call the Single Parent Helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to an expert adviser and work out your options and entitlements. Calls are free.

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