The Complete Guide To Unpaid Leave In The UK

  • 29 March 2021
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The Complete Guide To Unpaid Leave In The UK
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There’s a lot to consider when it comes to legal subjects like unpaid leave in the UK. We put together this guide to help you make sense of the most pressing questions, considerations, along with some tips to help you in the process. Happy reading! 

How do you best understand and handle unpaid leave? Whether it’s an unexpected family emergency, a house move gone wrong, or just a long-overdue holiday, it’s important to understand and track the amount of leave your employees are taking in the UK.

In this article, we offer our own comprehensive overview of unpaid leave, its specific nuances in the UK, and some of the best ways to consider it, analyze it, and completely understand it within your organization. We hope you enjoy the read.

What Is Unpaid Leave?

Unpaid leave is a way in which employers can offer dedicated staff members time off work when paid leave is exhausted. It is an opportunity for employees to take time off in unexpected circumstances, as well as an opportunity for employers to showcase goodwill toward employees in potential times of crisis. 

How Much Unpaid Leave Can UK Employees Take?

With three exceptions – having to attend jury service, looking after children, and furlough – there are no fixed rules about how much unpaid leave employees can take. As with many legally unclear HR issues, it’s better to err on the side of caution and describe your rules and requirements relating to unpaid leave in employee contracts or an employee handbook.

Can an Employer Force Employees to Take Unpaid Leave?

In short, yes. ACAS says, “Your employer can make you take: your holiday days when they want, for example, they might shut down over Christmas unpaid leave at times, if it’s in your contract.”

How Is Unpaid Leave Deducted From Employee Salaries?

According to NIDirect, employees, workers, and some other groups are protected from employers making unauthorized deductions from their pay and wages. The key word here, however, is “unauthorized”. Employee contracts should cover when unpaid leave is allowed, and when it will be deducted.

Why Is it Important to Allow Unpaid Leave?

When understanding and tracking unpaid leave in the UK you may feel like you’re negotiating peak-hour traffic along the M25 motorway. But if you keep your eyes on the road, you’ll be able to weave your way through the snarling traffic easily. 

Similarly, to steer human behavior, employers must pick up on the signals from their workforce. When used sensitively, unpaid leave can actually be a powerful bargaining tool that can improve employee goodwill.

The good news is that while some unpaid leave in the UK is enshrined in law (we go into great detail below about unpaid parental leave) since not all enterprises can afford to release key personnel a good portion of unpaid leave is at your discretion.

What Does British Law Say About Unpaid Leave?

The rules about unpaid leave in the UK, especially with regards to small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), are limited. That said, the government does have rules about two types of unpaid leave: 

  • When you have to serve on jury or magistrate duty and 
  • When you need to look after children. 
  • Other types of unpaid leave are not mandatory but are important for HR leaders and business managers to consider when understanding and tracking unpaid leave.


Looking for more? You can have a look at the rest of this guide by clicking this link. Enjoy! 

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