Types of leave: Balancing professional and personal needs

With workplace absences in the UK at the highest rate in more than a decade, it is vital that employers are aware of the types of leave available, to comply with legal requirements and contribute to a more supportive and balanced work environment.

For employees, who are finding stress to be a significant factor for both short and long-term absence, both statutory and discretionary leave can help improve their mental health and wellbeing. Of course, they need to be aware of their rights, what more their employers can do for them in terms of types of leave, and the context in which each type of leave may be used.

In England and Wales, there are several types of leave that an employee is legally entitled to (for the purposes of this blog, we are calling them “statutory”).

There are also many additional types of leave, which employers may choose to introduce to reflect a commitment to balancing an employee’s work and personal lives (we are calling these “discretionary”).

There are around 12 types of statutory leave that employees are entitled to and a few other types of leave we will delve into that are good practice/‘nice to haves’.

Statutory Leave: Addressing legal entitlements

Annual Leave: Perhaps the most well-known, this mandatory leave ensures employees get time off for rest and relaxation, which is vital for maintaining work-life balance, promoting productivity, and preventing burnout.

Full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks, including bank holidays. Part-time employees receive a pro-rata equivalent.

Although it is good practice, bank holidays do not have to be given as paid leave.

If you are an employer, see our Annual Leave Hack blog post, which discusses dealing with multiple requests and balancing leave with staff availability.

Sick Leave: Employees who are unable to work due to health, are entitled to Sick Leave. This is supported by Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), which an employee can receive if they are eligible.

SSP aims to provide financial support during illness, encouraging employees to prioritise their physical health and wellbeing without worrying about income loss.

However, many employers will enhance this pay as it is widely recognised that SSP is unlikely to be sufficient for most people to live off, long-term.

Maternity Leave: This type of leave is for employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth. Most company policies should set out the arrangements for pregnancy-related sickness and health and safety.

All pregnant employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks’ Maternity Leave, consisting of 26 weeks’ ordinary (OML) and 26 weeks’ additional (AML).

Subject to other eligibility requirements, employees on Maternity Leave are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, although employers may choose to enhance this.

If you are an employer, see our blog post on How to Support Employees Returning from Maternity or Parental Leave.

Paternity Leave: This is at least two weeks’ leave available for employees on the birth of a child if they are the biological father and have some responsibility for the child’s upbringing; or they are the spouse, civil partner, or cohabiting partner of the biological mother and will have the main responsibility (with the mother) for the child’s upbringing.

Subject to other eligibility requirements, these employees are also entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay, but this can be enhanced.

Note that secondary adopters are also entitled to corresponding leave to Paternity Leave, in adoption scenarios.

Since we published this blog post, the government has issued a legislative draft of the Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024. The main changes that came into effect from 6 April 2024 are:

  • More flexibility—employees will have the flexibility to take the two-week paternity leave as two separate one-week intervals, rather than having to take it as a single block or as consecutive weeks.
  • Extended period—employees can take paternity leave at any point within the first year (ie, 52 weeks) after the child’s birth or adoption of their child, as opposed to the previous limit of eight weeks after the child’s birth.
  • Notification period—employees only need to give 28 days’ (four weeks) written notice of their intention to take paternity leave rather than 15 weeks from the expected week of childbirth.

The new Regulations only apply to parents of children who are born (or adopted) on or after 6 April 2024.

Shared Parental Leave: This leave covers both birth and adoption and allows employees and their partners more flexibility in how to share the care of their child in the first year after birth/adoption (rather than taking Maternity and Paternity Leave).

For more information on the eligibility of this leave and how it works, see our blog post on Shared Parental Leave: How Does it Work?.

Adoption Leave: The aim of this type of leave allows employees to bond with their new family member. The maximum Adoption Leave entitlement is 52 weeks, consisting of 26 weeks’ ordinary adoption leave (OAL) and 26 weeks’ additional adoption leave (AAL).

To be eligible for this type of leave, employees must be adopting a child through a UK or overseas adoption agency, which has given them written notice that it has matched the employee with a child for adoption, and the date the child is expected to be placed into their care.

The employee must have also notified the agency that they agree to the child being placed with them on that date.

One parent is allocated as the Primary Adopter, entitled to Adoption Leave, and the other is the Secondary Adopter, entitled to the equivalent pay and leave as maternity pay.

Note that, if an employer has enhanced any pay for Maternity or Paternity Leave, they are legally obliged to also enhance pay relating to Adoption Leave.

Time Off for Antenatal Appointments: Pregnant employees and workers have the right to paid time off during working hours to attend appointments for the purpose of receiving antenatal care.

To be eligible for this, an employee must be attending the appointment or accompanying a pregnant woman to an appointment (with whom they have a “qualifying relationship”).

If you are accompanying the pregnant woman, your entitlement to leave and pay may be limited by your employer.

Antenatal care isn’t specifically defined in UK legislation, but it may include relaxation and parentcraft classes, provided that these are advised by a registered doctor, midwife, or nurse.

Time Off for Adoption Appointments: Employees who are going to adopt are entitled to the day one right to take paid time off for up to five appointments. If they are joint adopters, the other employee or worker may take unpaid time off for up to two appointments.

Any appointment taken (paid or unpaid) is subject to a maximum of six and a half hours.

Time Off for Dependants: Employees can take a “reasonable” amount of time off work in order to deal with particular situations affecting their dependants and to make any necessary long-term arrangements.

These situations may be:

  • To assist a dependant during illness, childbirth, injury, or assault;
  • To arrange care for an ailing or injured dependant, excluding long-term personal care;
  • If the dependant passes away;
  • Where there is unforeseen disruption or termination of the dependant’s care; or
  • To address unexpected incidents involving the employee’s child at school or another educational setting.

For more information on time off for dependants, see our In the News: Coronavirus Employer obligations blog post.

Time Off for Public Duties: This allows employees to take time off to perform certain public duties, such as jury duty or work for the Reserve Armed Forces. The employee’s request must be “reasonable” and the employer can impose “reasonable conditions” on this leave, too. There is no right to pay under this type of leave, but employers can exercise discretion to pay for this leave.

Parental Bereavement Leave: This is available to employees on the death of a child (including a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy).

Subject to qualifying conditions, this is paid at a statutory rate, and allows employees to take one or two weeks off work. This type of leave allows time to grieve and manage necessary arrangements.

For more information, please see our In The News: Bereavement Leave blog post.

You should also note that, if an employee has given birth to a living child and/or was more than 26 weeks pregnant, they will also be entitled to Maternity Leave in the case of miscarriage or stillbirth.

Parental Leave: This type of leave is normally unpaid and allows employees to take time off to care for their children’s welfare. Everyone is entitled to up to 18 weeks in respect of each child.

To be eligible for unpaid Parental Leave, employees must first have been continuously employed for at least one year (unless the child is entitled to disability living allowance).

They must also have, or expect to have, responsibility for a child and be taking the leave for the purpose of caring for a child, before the child’s 18th birthday. Leave must be taken in blocks of at least one week.

This leave is important in helping to manage unexpected situations and family commitments.

Carer’s Leave: The Carer’s Leave Act 2023, from 6 April 2024, allows employees to take one week of unpaid leave to care for a dependent with long-term needs, per holiday year. “Long term needs” is defined as:

  • Anyone with a condition that meets the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010;
  • Illness or injury (physical or mental) that requires or is likely to require care for more than three months; or
  • Old age.

Read this blog post to read our in-depth guide to this type of leave.

Discretionary types of leave: Addressing good practice

Compassionate Leave: There is no legal right to offer this type of leave, but certain rights such as Parental Bereavement Leave and pay and unpaid time off for dependants may apply instead, depending on the circumstances.

Pay is discretionary and will depend on the employer. However, for more of a discussion point, see our blog post on Statutory Bereavement Leave – Should we have it? How would it work?

Garden Leave: This applies when an employee chooses to leave or is asked to leave by the employer.

In the first instance, the employer may have two options: they can either immediately stop the employee from working (and pay in lieu of notice), or they may prefer to keep the employee at home during the notice period to prevent them from working for a competitor for as long as possible.

The employer should still pay the employee their normal salary and provide them with any contractual benefits during their notice period.

Time Off in Lieu: This is eligible for employees who have worked in excess of their contractual hours or over a public holiday that would otherwise have been treated as annual leave.

Time off is often taken instead of receiving overtime pay, which is not required by UK law, as long as the employee is not being forced against their will to work with no form of compensation.

Discretionary types of leave: Addressing ‘nice to haves’

Wellbeing Days: Also known as ‘Duvet Days’,

Some companies may refer to these days as ‘Hangover Days’. For an interesting debate on this, see our In the News: Hangover Days blog post.

Career Break: Otherwise known as ‘Sabbatical Leave’, this can provide staff with an opportunity for personal development (such as extended periods of travel, voluntary service overseas or to pursue further education), or to fulfil personal or domestic commitments.

From an employer’s perspective, you may want to consider asking the employee to detail things in writing such as the dates and reason for this leave, whether there are benefits to the business, and how they propose their work will be covered while they are off.

Volunteer Leave: This allows employees the opportunity to engage in volunteer work during work hours. As this is not a statutory right, employers will need to consider and approve or reject a Volunteer Leave request.

Some employers may also consider setting up a volunteer scheme, where employees can volunteer for a specific amount of time, some of which may be paid.

Bonus Days: It’s good practice to allow employees to earn certain types of days off. For example, at Thrive we offer a Made A Difference award (MAD), where employees provide feedback and vote for the colleague they believe has made a difference to them that month.

At the end of the month, the employee with the most votes is the winner and they can choose whether they would like a £20 Amazon voucher or a half day off as an award.

Most people choose the latter, so we have a policy in place that states they must take this within the month directly following the month they won the award for (eg, if they win the award in September, they must use the half day in October).

Birthday Leave: This is a nice incentive for employees to have to allow them to celebrate their birthday out of work hours.

At Thrive, we allow employees one day’s paid leave, which must be taken within seven days of either side of their birthday.

This can contribute to a more productive and positive work environment and show employees that you value their personal time.

Religious Days: This type of leave allows employees to take time off to observe religious festivals throughout the holiday year. It is normally offered as paid leave, and at Thrive, we allow employees one day to take part in religious activities.

Good practice would be adopting a supportive approach towards employees who wish to take time off for this reason.

Moving House Days: This can be a particularly stressful time for someone, so this type of leave gives employees time off work to move and/or settle into a new residence with their family or household.

As an employer, if you are offering this type of leave, you may want to consider not extending this to helping a third party move/settle in and that reasonable documentation or evidence may be required, to prevent unreasonable use of these days.

Key takeaways

From mandatory leave that uphold fundamental rights to ‘nice-to-haves’ that prioritise wellbeing, the policies an employer chooses to put in place can demonstrate a commitment to fostering a supportive and productive workforce.

Employers and employees alike should explore and utilise their leave to create a balanced work environment that values both professional and personal needs.

For Employers: Recognise that leave policies can greatly affect your employees’ wellbeing and productivity. Tailor what you offer to diverse circumstances, understanding that each employee’s situation is unique. When possible, consider going beyond mandatory leave to provide a supportive and flexible work environment.

For Employees: Embrace the leave entitlements available to you. Don’t hesitate to use the appropriate leave at the right time, whether it’s mandatory or discretionary. If you’re uncertain about your entitlements, seek guidance from your employer or colleagues who have utilised similar leave options.

Thrive Law is well placed to advise both employers and employees on leave types. Get in touch via

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    Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at which the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any actions. Please contact us if you have any questions on

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