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United Kingdom Leave Laws & Holidays

Paid Time Off (PTO), Holiday (Annual Leave), Sick Leave, Maternity and Paternity Leave, Bereavement Leave, Jury Duty Leave, Military Leave, and Voting Leave

Table Of Contents

Last updated on February 28, 2024.

Paid Time Off (PTO) in United Kingdom

Holiday Leave Quota in the U.K. 

5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year (28 days). 

Almost all workers in the UK are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday (vacation) per year. Holiday leave is also called statutory leave entitlement or annual leave. This applies to all workers, including those with irregular hours, those on zero-hours contracts, and agency workers. All these special categories receive proportionate holiday entitlements.

Holiday entitlement

Full-time workers who work 5 days a week are entitled to up to 28 days (5 x 5.6) of paid holiday. An employer has the option to include bank holidays as part of the employee’s legal entitlement to annual paid leave. In that case, workers are entitled to 8 days off for holidays and an additional 20 days. On top of these 28 days, employers are not required to provide additional paid leave for bank or public holidays. Workers have a legal right to a maximum of 28 days of paid holiday, even if they work more than 5 days a week. This means that someone who works 6 days a week is still only entitled to 28 days of paid holiday.

Employers always have the option to provide workers with more annual leave than what is legally required. 

Part-time workers are permitted to have 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year. In order to calculate their vacation entitlement, they have to multiply 5.6 days (statutory leave entitlement) by the number of days they work per week. For example, if a worker works 4 days per week, he or she is entitled to (4 × 5.6) 22.4 days of holiday leave per year.  

Workers who work irregular hours, (such as shift workers or term-time workers) have the right to receive paid time off for each hour they work. 

The standard notice period for requesting leave is typically at least twice as long as the duration of the leave requested, plus one additional day. For instance, a worker would be expected to provide 5 days’ notice to take 2 days of leave. 

Accrual 

1/12 of the total annual leave in each month. 

As soon as a worker begins their job, they start to accumulate (or ‘accrue’) their annual leave entitlement. Employers have the option to calculate their workers’ leave entitlement using either a ‘leave year‘ or an ‘accrual‘ system. 

Leave year

When a worker begins working for an employer, the employer should inform them of the dates of their statutory leave year, which might be from 1st January to 31st December, for example. Workers are required to take their statutory leave during this period. If a contract does not specify the leave year, it will begin on the first day of the employee’s job. 

Accrual system

Employers have the option of calculating a worker’s annual leave entitlement during their first year of employment using an accrual system. With this system, the employee earns one-twelfth of their total annual leave entitlement in each month of their employment. 

Carry Over (Roll Over, Brought Forward) 

Up to 8 days

The number of days’ leave that a worker can carry over to the next year is specified in their employment contract. If a worker is entitled to 28 days’ leave, he or she is permitted to carry over a maximum of 8 days to the following year. 

Use-it-or-lose-it policy

Many employers have a policy that limits carryover. This gives an employee an option to carry over only a certain amount of accrued vacation to be taken within the first three months of the next vacation year. This benefit depends on an employer’s policy. In the absence of any other specific rule, employers are allowed to use the use-it-or-lose-it policy. 

Payment of Accrued, Unused Holiday on Termination 

Must be paid on termination. 

A worker can’t cash out his or her annual leave. The only circumstance where an individual can receive payment instead of taking statutory leave, which is referred to as “payment in lieu”, is when they terminate their employment. Even if an employee is dismissed due to gross misconduct, their employer is still obligated to compensate them for any unused statutory leave. 

Sick Leave in the U.K.

Up to 28 weeks. Paid by the employer at a minimum fixed rate of £109.40 a week. 

An employee can receive £109.40 per week in Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks. Statutory Sick Pay is set to go up to £116.75 in the beginning of April 2024. 

An eligible employee starts receiving Statutory Sick Pay from the 4th day he/she is off sick. The first 3 days are called “waiting days“ and are unpaid. An employer will pay SSP in the same manner as the employee’s regular wages, such as on a weekly or monthly basis. Some employers might offer more than the minimum SSP; this is called “occupational” or “contractual” sick pay. 

Employees are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they: 

  • are classed as an employee and have done at least some work for the employer 
  • earn an average of more than £123 per week 
  • have been sick for at least 4 consecutive days (non-working days included) 
Fit notes (aka sick notes)

If an employee has been absent from work due to sickness for more than seven consecutive days (including non-working days), he or she is required to provide the employer with a ‘fit note‘ or ‘sick note’. 

Sick leave and holiday

Employees will continue to accrue their statutory holiday entitlement while on sick leave, regardless of the duration of their absence. 

If an employee is unable to take their holiday entitlement due to illness, they can carry over the unused days into the next year. In case an employee falls ill just before or during the holiday, they can choose to take it as sick leave. 

In situations where an employee is not eligible for sick pay, they may request to use their paid holiday during their sick leave. However, the usual sick leave policies and guidelines will still apply. On the other hand, an employer is not allowed to compel employees to use their annual leave entitlement when they are entitled to sick leave. 

Long-term sickness

An employee who has been absent from work due to sickness for more than 4 weeks may be classified as long-term sick. Despite being on long-term sick leave, such employees are still entitled to their annual leave. 

Linked periods of sickness

If an employee experiences frequent and recurring episodes of sickness, they may be considered ‘linked’ provided that they meet the following criteria: 

  • each episode should be 4 or more days in duration 
  • the episodes should be separated by no more than 8 weeks. 

If sickness episodes are linked, and the linked episodes continue for a period exceeding 3 years, an employee will no longer qualify for Statutory Sick Pay. 

Returning to work

An employer is required to provide “reasonable adjustments” for an employee who is disabled due to an illness, including shorter hours or adapting equipment the employee uses at work. 

Payout of sick leave 

Statutory Sick Pay in the U.K. is paid by the employer. 

Maternity, Paternity, Shared Parental, and Adoption Leave in the U.K.

Maternity Leave

52 weeks in total; 39 weeks are paid, last 13 weeks are unpaid.

A pregnant employee has four main legal rights: 

  • Statutory Maternity Leave  
  • Statutory Maternity Pay or maternity allowance 
  • Paid time off for antenatal (pregnancy-related) care 
  • Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination, or dismissal    
Statutory Maternity Leave

Statutory Maternity Leave lasts 52 weeks

Leave consists of: 

  • Ordinary Maternity Leave – first 26 weeks 
  • Additional Maternity Leave – last 26 weeks 

Employees are not required to take the full 52 weeks but must take 2 weeks’ leave after childbirth or 4 weeks’ leave if the employee works in a factory. 

Typically, an employee can begin their leave as early as 11 weeks prior to the anticipated week of childbirth. If the baby is born earlier than expected, maternity leave will begin the day following the birth. Moreover, if an employee is absent from work due to a pregnancy-related illness within four weeks before the week that your baby is due (Sunday to Saturday), the leave will start automatically. 

To be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay one must: 

  • be an employee (have an employment contract), not a ‘worker’ 
  • give their employer the correct notice 

An employee’s length of service, working hours, and salary are not relevant and have no impact on the maternity leave. 

To claim Statutory Maternity Leave, an employee must inform her employer (in writing if they ask for it) of her due date and the start date of her leave at least 15 weeks prior to her due date

Some employees might have the right to use a portion of their leave as Shared Parental Leave (more about it below). 

Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is the lowest amount that an employer is required by law to pay an employee during the time she takes off for maternity leave. 

Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for up to 39 weeks

First 6 weeks 

  • 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings (before tax). 

Next 33 weeks 

An employee gets whichever is lower: 

  • £172.48 a week (new rate of £184.03 applies from April 8 2024)
  • 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings 

Last 13 weeks  

  •  Unpaid 

An employee who takes Shared Parental Leave gets Statutory Shared Parental Pay which is £172.48 a week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower (more about it below). 

Statutory Maternity Pay will typically start when an employee takes her maternity leave. 

To be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay an employee must: 

  • have worked for the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks, continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth 
  • give the correct notice 
  • give evidence that she is pregnant 
  • earn an average of more than £123 a week 

To claim Statutory Maternity Pay an employee must inform her employer about her pregnancy and the date she wants her pay to start. It is mandatory to provide the employer with evidence of pregnancy and a notice of at least 28 days

It is mandatory for employers to provide pregnant employees with time off for antenatal care, and pay them at their usual rate during this time. 

Paternity Leave

1 or 2 weeks of paid leave. 

Eligible employees can get: 

  • 1 or 2 weeks of paid Paternity Leave 
  • Paternity Pay 
  • Shared Parental Leave and Pay 
Paternity Leave

Employees are entitled to 1 or 2 weeks of job-protected paid leave if the employee’s partner is having a baby, adopting a child, or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement. An employee chooses whether it’s going to be 1 or 2 weeks of leave.

Leave cannot start before birth. It must end within 56 days of the birth. Employees must provide 28 days’ notice. Leave must be taken consecutively. 

Employees are eligible for Paternity Leave if they:  

  •  have been employed for the same employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected date 
  • give the correct notice 
  • are classed as “employees” (not ‘workers’) 
Paternity Pay

The weekly rate of Paternity Pay is whichever amount is lower out of the following: 

  •  £172.48 a week (£184.03 from April 8, 2024)
  • 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings  

Paternity Pay will typically start when an employee takes paternity leave. 

Employees are eligible for Paternity Pay if they: 

  • have been employed for the same employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected date. 
  • give the correct notice 
  • earn an average of more than £123 a week 
  • are employed by their employer up to the date of birth 
Unpaid time off for antenatal appointments

A partner has the right to attend two antenatal appointments with a pregnant employee, during which they can take time off work; however, this time is typically unpaid, and the maximum duration allowed for each appointment is 6.5 hours. 

Shared Parental Leave and Pay

Up to 50 weeks of Shared Parental Leave and up to 37 weeks of Statutory Shared Parental Pay

Employees are entitled to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of paid leave.  

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) can be taken within the first year the child is born or placed within the family. Leave can be taken in separate periods or consecutively.  

Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) is paid at the rate of £172.48 a week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings (AWE), whichever is lower. 

To be eligible for SPL and ShPP birth or adoptive parents must: 

  • have been employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date or by the end of the week they were matched with the child. 
  • stay with the same employer until they start SPL 

In addition: 

  • be classed as ‘employees’ (not ‘workers’) to be eligible for SPL 
  • each earn, on average, at least £123 a week to be eligible for ShPP 

Adoption Leave

Up to 52 weeks of job-protected leave, 39 weeks are paid. 

Employees who are adopting a child or having a child via surrogacy could be entitled to: 

  • Statutory Adoption Leave 
  • Statutory Adoption Pay 
Statutory Adoption Leave

Eligible employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks of job-protected statutory leave.  

Leave consists of: 

  • Ordinary Adoption Leave – first 26 weeks 
  • Additional Adoption Leave – last 26 weeks 

One employee in a couple can take adoption leave, and then the other could take paternity leave. Employees must provide proof of the adoption or surrogacy. Employees are entitled to paid time off to attend 5 adoption appointments.   

Statutory Adoption Pay

Adoption leave is paid for up to 39 weeks.  

Statutory Adoption Pay consists of: 

First 6 weeks: 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings. 

Next 33 weeks: An employee gets whichever is lower: 

  • £172.48 a week (£184.03 from April 2024)
  • 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings 

The last 13 weeks are unpaid. 

Payout 

Maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave in the U.K is paid by an employer, in the same way as the employee’s regular wages or salaries are paid (for example weekly or monthly). 

Bereavement Leave in the U.K.

Death of an employee’s dependant

An employer is required to provide a reasonable amount of time for bereavement.  

Anyone classed as an employee is entitled to a reasonable amount of time off due to a dependent’s death, including a spouse or partner, parent, child, or someone else who relied on them. 

Leave is not paid, although some employers offer to pay. 

This leave is intended for managing unforeseen situations and crises related to the dependent, such as taking time off to make arrangements or attend a funeral. 

The legislation doesn’t specify a specific duration for time off that can be taken when dependent (a child is excluded) passes away, but only requires that the duration is considered “reasonable.” Employers are not obligated to provide a specific amount of time off for bereavement, and it is usually at their discretion, based on the circumstances. Some employers may stipulate a fixed number of days for bereavement leave, while others may decide on a case-by-case basis. Typically, companies allow an average of 1–3 days (up to 5) for bereavement leave.

Parental Bereavement Leave

Up to 2 weeks of paid leave.

If a child passes away prior to reaching 18 years old or an employee experiences a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the employee and his or her partner may be eligible to take time off work. 

Employees are entitled to take two weeks of leave starting from the first day of their employment for every child they have lost due to death or stillbirth. 

Employees are allowed to take: 

  • only 1 week of leave 
  • 2 separate weeks of leave 
  • 2 weeks together 

The leave may begin either on or after the date of the death or stillbirth, and it must end within 56 weeks of the death or stillbirth. 

Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay

Employees and workers who meet the eligibility criteria will receive either £172.48 per week (increases to £184.03 as of April 2024) or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever amount is lower. 

Payout 

Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay is paid by an employer, in the same way as an employee’s wages. 

Jury Service Leave in the U.K.

An employers must allow employees unpaid time off for jury duty

An employer is required to grant all employees time off if they are summoned to serve on a jury. 

It is not permitted to discriminate against an employee for fulfilling their jury service obligations. If an employer terminates the employee’s employment because of their jury service, they may take legal action. However, if an employer’s business would be severely impacted by his/her employee’s absence, he/she can ask them to try and defer their jury service by providing a letter from him/her that outlines the reasons why. 

Payout 

An employer is not required to pay employees while they are on jury duty leave, although most employers do. Even if they are not paid by the employer, employees can usually claim from the court up to £64.95 (plus the cost of travel and £5.71 for food and drinks). 

Military (Reservist) Leave in the U.K.

An employer must allow employees to respond to mobilisation, and have a period of leave after service. 

Mobilisation refers to the process of calling up reservists for full-time service.  

Reservists will receive a ‘call-out notice’ to which they must respond as soon as possible. The notice will provide instructions on what to do. Typically, reservists are given 28 days’ notice before mobilisation, but this may be shorter if the situation is urgent. Reservists are required to inform their employer about their mobilisation as soon as possible, and the employer will be provided with information about their rights and responsibilities. 

If an employer terminates a reservist’s employment due to mobilisation, they may be fined in court and required to provide compensation. Following their service, reservists are granted a certain period of leave, during which time employers are not permitted to compel them to return to work. Upon completion of their service, reservists have the right to resume the same type of job they had prior to mobilisation, under the same terms and conditions as before. 

A financial grant is available to both employers and reservists.  

Time Off to Vote in the UK

If an employee is unable to vote outside of their working hours, he or she is entitled to take time off to do so. The exact amount of time off is not prescribed by law, but it is typically a reasonable amount of time that allows for both voting and travel to and from the polling station. 

Bank Holidays in the U.K.

A leave for bank holidays is not required by law. 

Employers are not obligated to provide paid leave for public or bank holidays. However, it is within an employer’s discretion to include bank holidays as part of an employee’s statutory annual leave. Employers are also not obligated to pay time-and-a-half or double for working on bank or public holidays. 

Complete list of bank holidays in the U.K

Starting from the year 2023, the coronation of King Charles III will result in an additional day off in May. When a bank holiday falls on a weekend, a substitute weekday is designated as the bank holiday, usually the following Monday.

England and Wales
Date Holiday
1 January New Year’s Day
2 days before Easter Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
1 day after Easter Easter Monday
1st Monday of May Early May bank holiday
Last Monday in May Spring bank holiday
Last Monday of August Summer bank holiday
25 December Christmas Day
26 December Boxing Day
Scotland
Date Holiday
1 January New Year’s Day
2 January Second Day of New Year’s Day
2 days before Easter Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
1st Monday of May Early May bank holiday
Last Monday in May Spring bank holiday
Last Monday of August Summer bank holiday
30 November St Andrew’s Day
25 December Christmas Day
26 December Boxing Day
Northern Ireland
Date Holiday
1 January New Year’s Day
March 17 St Patrick’s Day
2 days before Easter Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
1 day after Easter Easter Monday
1st Monday of May Early May bank holiday
Last Monday in May Spring bank holiday
12 July Battle of the Boyne (Orangemen’s Day)
Last Monday in August Summer bank holiday
25th December Christmas Day
26th December Boxing Day

Sources

  1. GOV.UK > Employing people > Contracts of employment and working hours, https://www.gov.uk/browse/employing-people/contracts
  2. GOV.UK > Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay/eligibility
  3. GOV.UK > Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): employer guide, https://www.gov.uk/employers-sick-pay
  4. GOV.UK > Maternity pay and leave, https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave
  5. GOV.UK > Statutory Maternity Pay and Leave: employer guide, https://www.gov.uk/employers-maternity-pay-leave
  6. GOV.UK > Shared Parental Leave and Pay, https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay
  7. GOV.UK > Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay and Leave: employer guide, https://www.gov.uk/employers-parental-bereavement-pay-leave
  8. GOV.UK > Giving staff time off for jury service, https://www.gov.uk/giving-staff-time-off-jury-service
  9. GOV.UK > Rights and responsibilities for reservists and employers, https://www.gov.uk/employee-reservist/returning-to-work
  10. ACAS > Holiday, sickness and leave, https://www.acas.org.uk/holiday-sickness-leave
  11. Payroll and Benefits Guide United Kingdom, https://www.papayaglobal.com/countrypedia/country/united-kingdom/

Check out our Leave Laws page to learn more about laws in various countries.

All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about this region's leave laws. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, and may not be current. Please contact your local legal counsel to learn more about the leave laws in your country.

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