In this guide, we will discuss “How many days unpaid leave is an employee entitled to in the UK”, the most common reasons why someone will consider taking unpaid time off, if there is a fixed amount of time you are entitled to depending on the scenario, benefits, and unpaid leave rights and if your employer can actually force you to take unpaid leave.
How many days of unpaid leave is an employee entitled to in the UK?
How many days of unpaid leave is an employee entitled to in the Uk is a very tricky and interesting question.
There are various reasons why an employee would consider taking time off work but unpaid leave in the UK, translates to no statutory right to be paid.
As indicated by croner.co.uk, “In particular, there’s no maximum or minimum amount of unpaid leave from work that employees legally must have…The legislation most employers refer to when dealing with this is the Employment Rights Act 1996…But even then, the law differs depending on the reason for unpaid leave.”
This will be discretionary, depends on your employer and whether they approved or deny the number of days or time requested by an employee.
This is contrary to what it is established as paid leave, according to Clare Avery from e-days.com, “Almost all UK workers get 5.6 weeks of paid leave a year. For employees who work regular full-time hours, this usually extends to 28 days of paid leave each year.”
Common reasons for unpaid time off
There are several reasons why an employee may require unpaid leave from work, on some occasions your employer can decide whether they pay it or not (discretionary).
For instance, if you need time to care for your dependants because there is an emergency such as taking care of a child, grandchild, parent, spouse, partner or someone that depends on you.
The most common scenarios where someone might request to get unpaid time off include:
- Public duties: when you are a local councilor or school governor, your employer must give you a reasonable amount of unpaid leave.
- Jury service/duty: your employer must allow time off for jury service, failure in doing so can result in a fine. However, if jury service comes at a bad time the employee has the option to postpone it but eventually will have to do it.
- Family emergencies: it is also known as dependant leave, where employees may be entitled to take time off to take care of unexpected personal matters. Your employer is not obliged to pay you for this type of leave and there is no set amount but it is said that 1-2 days is a reasonable amount of time.
- Doctor or dentist appointments: employers are not legally obligated to give time off for a visit to the doctor or dentist and you may probably be asked to re-schedule outside office hours. However, pregnant women can take paid time off work for antenatal care.
- Unpaid paternal leave: this is not the same as maternity, paternity or shared parental leave, here we refer to when an employee wants to take time off to care for their child. There seems to be a rule where, in order for you to be entitled, you must have been working for your employer at least for a year to get 1-week blocks.
- Compassionate leave: this will be paid or unpaid depending on your employer, this is also known as to bereavement.
Is there a fixed time?
According to businessadvice.co.uk, here are the specifications surrounding unpaid leave in the UK:
- Time for dependants does not have a set amount so you can actually take time off depending on the situation. In addition, there is no limit to the number of times an employee can take time off because they need to take care of their dependents.
- Parental leave, to take care of your child can go up to 4 weeks each year per child until they turn 18 years old.
- A sabbatical or career break is actually agreed with your employer. There are no laws specifically set for sabbaticals or career breaks.
- You can decide whether or not to pay staff for their time off for public duties. If you are an employee in the reserve forces you can have certain protections under the employment law if called up for service.
According to Olly Goodall from businessadvice.co.uk: “There is more crossover between paid and unpaid leave than you might have thought. In situations where the law is less clear, even non-existent, it’s best to be upfront with employees in your employment contracts or employee handbook. This avoids confusion and helps employees to make preparations where necessary.”
Benefits and unpaid leave rights
Not long ago, employers used to be so restrictive when they considered allowing their employers time off.
However, employers have understood (not all of them though) that being flexible makes them a more attractive employer.
This means attracting new talent and helping to keep current tenure staff, which can also increase loyalty towards the organization.
“A recent YouGov study found that flexible working was one of the most important benefits to employees in the modern workplace. Unpaid leave is a big part of that (croner.co.uk).”
So, are employees entitled or have the right to unpaid leave? There is no specific answer for this since most unpaid leave rules are stipulated by the employment contract.
This actually means that employees may or may not be entitled to take unpaid leave, unless they have the contractual right to do so.
Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave?
Your employer may be entitled to force you to take unpaid leave if there is not enough work available, this is commonly known as laying an employee off.
However, this must be pre-established in your contractual agreement.
“There’s no limit to how long you can lay-off an employee, but if they’ve been away from work for four weeks in a row, or six weeks within a 13-week period where no more than six weeks are consecutive, then they can apply for redundancy pay and resign from their position (croner.co.uk).”
Why is this blog about How many days unpaid leave is an employee entitled to UK important?
As we discussed when answering how many days unpaid leave is an employee entitled in the UK, there are is no fixed amount of days a UK employee is entitled to and the laws are not specific about them either.
It will actually depend on their employer.
However, in some of the scenarios we discussed, your employer may have a fixed amount of days but it will depend on your contractual agreement so make sure you check it first.
In addition, remember that your employer can force you to take unpaid leave if they consider there is not enough work you can do but it needs to be established in your agreement as well.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about How many days unpaid leave is an employee entitled to UK
Can I take unpaid leave NHS?
If you have been employed for a min NHS continuous period of 12 months at the time the leave is requested may apply for extended special leave.
“Extended unpaid special leave may be up to a maximum of 18 weeks over a 5 year period (pro-rata for part-time). This unpaid leave may be taken in any number of consecutive whole weeks up to 18 and maybe split into more than one occasion. Continuous service is maintained during this special leave. Leave may be converted into hours for staff who work varying shifts or are part-time.”
Can I work during unpaid leave?
If you have been approved for unpaid leave there is no point in working during the leave unless you have been approved by your manager or your employer to come back early.
Talk to your employer first before coming back to work when you have requested unpaid leave or ask them if they can let you end your unpaid leave earlier than the amount of time originally requested.
How much unpaid leave can I take?
There is very little information around unpaid leave and the laws around it.
“In particular, there’s no maximum or minimum amount of unpaid leave from work that employees legally must-have (croner.co.uk).”
This means that your employer will decide the amount of unpaid leave you can take and whether they pay it or not.
How is unpaid leave calculated?
It will depend on many variables, here is an Unpaid leave calculator that can be useful if you would like to calculate how much money you will stop receiving when taking an x amount of time as unpaid leave.
However, this is just an estimate so it would be more precise to talk to your employer in terms of getting unpaid leave, mostly because the days you require need to be negotiated with your employer.
Can I take unpaid leave from work UK?
You could take unpaid leave from work in the UK but since there are very little information and laws about it, then it is important to get into an agreement with your employer for requesting the unpaid time off and how you will plan to pay the time back.
However, if paid time off gets denied then consider checking other options, such as holiday time.
Beattie, A. (2019, Aug.) Are Employees Entitled to Unpaid Leave?. Retrieved from Croner.co.uk.
Avery, C. (n.d.) Can an Employee Take Unpaid Leave?. Retrieved from e-days.com.
Goodall, O. (2019, Apr.) Paid and unpaid leave UK: Everything you need to know. Retrieved from businessadvice.co.uk.