A very wide range of legislation governs maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave and pay. Most of the relevant legislation can be found consolidated into the Employment Rights Act 1996 or the Employment Relations Act 1999. A full list of the relevant legislation is given at the end of these Q&As.

However, the Employment Act 2002, the Work and Families Act 2006, the Children and Families Act 2014, and numerous regulations have also brought in some significant changes.

GOV.UK provides guidance and interactive tools on maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay.

In Northern Ireland, information on maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave and pay is available from nidirect


The terminology used in this area of employment law may cause confusion. The following terms are used in these Q&As:

  • Right to request flexible working – right to formally request more flexible working arrangements.

  • Unpaid parental leave – generally refers to the current right of up to 18 weeks’ extra unpaid leave (available in addition to the primary paid leave). See the Parental rights and family-friendly provisions Q&As.

  • EWC – Expected week of childbirth/week the baby is due. In these Q&As, the term ‘due’ is used where possible.

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