• Aimée Lister

The Employer’s Guide to the Types of Leave in the UK

Managing your employees’ leave can be a serious administrative headache. Keeping track of absences, carrying over allowances and managing approvals requires robust processes.


Understanding the different types of leave and how each impacts your employees’ pay is complex and requires either an in-depth understanding of the topic or simply a good software that takes care of it for you.


This article walks you through the main types of Leave in the UK and why your choice of HR and payroll software can make a world of difference to your management processes.


Leave of absence & payroll


Keeping track of different types of leave and relevant amounts of statutory pay allowances is no easy task. That’s why using a payroll software like Zelt that automatically handles all relevant calculations, monitors holiday entitlement, and the types of leave taken is essential.


Leave and payroll are inherently connected:


  • When an employee leaves, you’re required to pay out any remaining holiday allowance as accrued holiday pay

  • When an employee takes statutory leave, you can deduct their statutory pay from your HMRC bill

  • If employees take unpaid leave, you need to deduct this from their pay.


For this reason, it makes sense to opt for a payroll software which unifies HR and payroll. Zelt seamlessly collects all the relevant information when an employee requests time off through their employee portal, automatically updates your payroll to reflect the type of leave they’ve taken, and ensures that your employees always receive the right amount of pay – which is crucial for the employee experience.


The main leave types in the UK


There are many different types of leave in the UK, some statutory and others that are offered at the employer’s discretion.


One example of statutory leave is an employee’s annual leave allowance - this is a legal entitlement to take time off work. Any unpaid statutory pay amounts to a breach of employees’ rights which can be enforced by an employment tribunal.


Employers can also choose to offer their workers supplementary leave on top of the statutory minimum or offer completely different types of leave that are not legally provided for. For example, time off for learning and development or duvet days. If at any point you withhold these additional benefits, this is a matter that must be resolved between employer and employee, as this does not constitute a breach of statutory rights.


Zelt helps you manage both statutory and non-statutory leave. You can input custom allowances as well as any types of non-statutory leave that you want to offer, so that your employees can accurately track their leave entitlement via their portal.


Here is a quick overview of the key types of leave that we cover in this article. Each of these have a different impact on an employee’s pay which we cover in our statutory pay article.


Statutory Leave

  • Statutory annual leave

  • Sick leave

Leave related to parenthood

  • Maternity, paternity & adoption leave

  • Shared parental leave

  • Unpaid parental leave

  • Compassionate/bereavement leave

Other types of statutory leave

  • Jury leave

  • Magistrate duty

Non-statutory leave

  • Extended leave

  • Duvet days

  • Gardening leave


Statutory annual leave


In the UK, all employees enjoy a legal entitlement to 5.6 weeks (28 days) of paid holiday per year. Commonly referred to as ‘statutory leave entitlement’ or ‘annual leave’, this is calculated pro rata.


Pro rata means proportional to the number of days worked. So, the more work that someone does, the more holiday they accrue. This is an essential aspect of payroll management and your payroll software should calculate this automatically.


Workers start to build-up their annual leave as soon as they start working for you. They’re also entitled to build up annual leave entitlement during maternity, paternity, and sick leave.


Statutory leave year


It’s your responsibility as the employer to inform your workers of when your statutory leave year runs. If you haven’t set a particular leave year, then it will run from that worker’s first day at work. If someone starts their job mid-way through a leave year, they’ll only be able to take the relevant proportion of their entitlement.


Are bank holidays part of statutory leave?


The decision to include bank holidays as part of statutory leave is discretionary. So it depends on what you as the employer decide to do. You can also elect to offer your employees more holiday than the statutory minimum. If you’re using Zelt, simply input your specific provisions and the software will take care of the rest.


Carrying over leave


You should set out your policy on carrying over leave of absence from work in your employment contract. Workers on the standard statutory entitlement of 28 days are able to carry over a maximum of 8 days.


For any extra entitlement, it’s up to the employer to decide whether they allow them to carry over additional untaken leave.


Additionally, if the reason that someone hasn’t taken their full allowance of leave is because they’re already on a different type of leave from work (such as sick leave), they should be able to carry over a maximum of 20 out of 28 days into the next year.


How to calculate statutory leave for part-time workers


Part-time workers also receive 5.6 weeks of holiday entitlement. However, because they work fewer days in a week, this will total fewer than 28 days of holiday overall.


If a part-time worker works irregular hours, their holiday entitlement will be based on the number of hours worked, and pro-rated compared to what a full-time employee is entitled to. A unified payroll and HR software like Zelt handles these kinds of calculations automatically for each individual employee, so you don’t have to – which helps avoid human error and improve the overall employee experience.


How to calculate statutory leave pay


Workers receive equivalent to a week’s pay for every week of statutory leave that they take. A week’s pay will look different for different workers and is calculated depending on the kind of hours they work and how they’re paid for those hours.



Working Pattern

How to calculate a week's pay

Fixed hours & fixed pay (full and part-time workers)


A full week's pay

Shift work with fixed hours (full and part-time workers)

​Average number of weekly fixed hours worked in the previous 52 weeks, calculated with average hourly rate

Casual work & zero-hours contracts

Worker's average pay in the previous 52 weeks (only calculate using weeks when the worker was paid).

Source: https://www.gov.uk/holiday-entitlement-rights/holiday-pay-the-basics


A couple of notes on calculating weekly pay:


  • If a worker received no pay in a given week, you can count back until you reach a week when they were paid. You’re allowed to count back up to 104 weeks.

  • If a worker has been working for fewer than 52 weeks of pay, you can simply calculate their weekly pay based on the full weeks they have worked.

  • If a worker is paid monthly, first calculate their average hourly pay and then use this number to find their weekly pay. Then continue with the same calculation for the average of the last 52 weeks worked.


Can I roll-up my employees’ holiday pay in their hourly pay?


Instead of paying their employees when they take holiday some businesses top-up their worker’s basic play to include their holiday pay. This is called ‘rolled-up holiday pay’, but is actually illegal. Holiday pay should be paid when a worker takes their annual leave.


How much holiday pay do leaving employees receive?


Calculating holiday pay when an employee contract is terminated confuses a lot of employers.


When an employee’s contract comes to an end, they receive any remaining holiday allowance as part of their final payment (this is referred to as ‘pay in lieu of holiday’). This applies whether that employee has resigned or you have terminated their employment for another reason.


Employees are entitled to any remaining statutory holiday. However, if you also offer your employees additional holiday entitlement, it’s up to you to decide whether your workers are entitled to get paid for untaken days or not.


How to calculate holiday pay on termination of contract


When an employee hands in their notice or you terminate their employment contract, they’re still entitled to get payment in lieu of any remaining annual leave entitlement - pay in lieu of holiday.


If you offer your employees more than the statutory minimum allowance, whether they’re entitled to pay in lieu of this additional holiday depends on what you have stipulated in your employment contract.


Full time employee


A full-time employee has a statutory allowance of 28 days of paid holiday (if they work a 5 day week). This may include national holidays depending on your policy.


The formula for working out holiday pay owed is: (A x B) - C

A = Annual Holiday Allowance

B = Proportion of year to the date that they leave

C = Amount of holiday allowance already used


For example: if an employee is leaving 6 months into the year and they have already taken 10 days off.


5.6 * (6/12) - 2 = 0.8 weeks of paid leave in lieu is owed.


Part-time employee


Part-time employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday every year. So, for example, if a part-time worker has a four day work week, they would be entitled to 5.6 x 4 = 22.4 days of paid holiday.


You would use the same formula to calculate holiday pay owed.


For example, a part-time worker is leaving 8 months into the year having already taken 3 days off. They typically have a four day work week.


5.6 * (8/12) - 0.75 = 2.98 weeks of paid leave in lieu is owed


Zero hours contract


Calculating how much you owe a zero-hours worker can be a bit more complicated. It’s easiest to work out their remaining entitlement by using the number of hours they’ve worked.


52 weeks in a year - 5.6 annual statutory holiday allowance = 46.4 weeks


5.6 / 46.4 = 12.07%


A zero-hours contract worker is entitled to holiday equivalent to 12.07% of the hours they’ve worked.


For example, if a zero-hours worker works 21 hours in a week, their entitlement would be:


21 * (12.07/100) = 2.5 hours


Time Off in Lieu (TOIL)

You can choose to offer your employees ‘time off in lieu’ instead of paying them for overtime.


Sick leave


Employees are allowed to take sick leave when they’re ill. For employees who are off work for fewer than a week, ‘self-certification’ is enough. However, if they are sick for more than a week they need to provide you with a ‘sick note’ or ‘fit note’ as evidence that they’re actually ill.

If they fall ill during a planned holiday, they can convert their holiday into sick leave. And statutory holiday entitlement continues to accrue whilst they’re on sick leave - regardless of how long they are off work.


If they end up with remaining holiday allowance because they have been on sick leave, this gets carried over.


Types of leave related to parenthood


Maternity leave


Maternity leave can last up to 52 weeks. There are two phases of Maternity Leave: the first 26 weeks are called Ordinary Maternity Leave and the second 26 Additional Maternity Leave.


Expectant mothers can start their maternity leave a maximum of 11 weeks ahead of their anticipated due date, and they’re obliged to take at least 2 weeks of leave following the birth of their baby.


Paternity leave


If an employee’s partner has a baby (through pregnancy or surrogacy) or adopts, they may be entitled to 1-2 weeks of paid Paternity leave or shared parental leave and pay.


Whilst on paternity leave, worker’s employment rights are protected.


Employees can choose to take 1 or 2 weeks of paternity pay (this is the same even if their partner has twins, for example). They must take their paternity leave consecutively (it’s not possible to split it up), and it must start after the birth or adoption and end within 56 days of the birth.


Shared parental leave (SPL)


An employee and their partner might be eligible to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL) if they’re having a baby (through pregnancy or surrogacy), or adopting or fostering a child.


Between them, they can share a maximum of 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay. SPL must be taken within one year of the child being born or joining their family. It’s up to the employee whether they take SPL all at once or in different blocks throughout the year.


In order to qualify for both SPL and ShPP, the employee and their partner need to fulfil the specific criteria, give the appropriate amount of notice, and also give up part of their maternity/adoption leave and pay.


For birth parents:


In order to qualify for SPL, the employee or their partner needs to take less than their 52 weeks of maternity/adoption leave and use the remainder as SPL, as well as taking less than 39 weeks of maternity/adoption pay and using the rest as ShPP.


Both parents have to have been working for the same employer continuously for a minimum of 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date and remain with the same employer until they begin their SPL. They also need to earn a minimum of £123 a week to qualify.


For adopters or surrogacy:


In order for both parents to qualify for SPL, both parents need to have been working for the same employer continuously for 26 weeks by the end of the week that the couple is matched with a child, or by the end of the 15th week before the due date in cases of surrogacy.


If one partner alone wants to take the SPL, there are different requirements:


For one person in the couple to take take the SP:


  • Their partner has to have worked for a minimum of 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the baby is due (does not need to be consecutive)

  • Their partner must have earned a minimum of £390 in the 13 of the 66 weeks (you can add up the highest paying weeks)

  • They need to have worked for you for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due

  • Continue working for you until the start of the SPL

Compassionate leave: time off for family and dependents


If employees have an unexpected emergency that involves a dependent, they are able to take time off from work. This can be situations such as cases of injury, illness, assault, where someone goes into labour unexpectedly, where child care arrangements are disrupted, or if a child gets into an incident during school.


There is no statutory allowance or minimum, but depends on the appropriate amount of time needed to resolve the specific situation. You decide whether or not to pay your employees for this kind of leave.


Note that this kind of leave does not apply to situations where the employee knew about the situation in advance.


Statutory parental bereavement leave


If an employee’s child (under the age of 18) dies, or if they experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, they’ll be entitled to statutory parental bereavement leave and pay of 2 weeks.


It’s up to them whether they take the two weeks consecutively, separately, or decide to take just one week. They can also choose whether it starts on the day of the death or stillbirth or at another point, although it has to finish within 56 weeks of the death or stillbirth.


Parental leave


Parental leave is for eligible employees to take time off to look after their children. This can be for a variety of reasons: to spend more time with their children, to tour new potential schools, to accustom their children to new childcare arrangements, or to spend more time with family. This type of parental leave is unpaid.


Parents can take a total of 18 weeks of leave for each of their children up to their child’s 18th birthday – with a maximum of 4 weeks per child per year.


Parents need to take unpaid parental leave in week-long blocks rather than individual days, where a week is equivalent to their normal working pattern over 7 days.


Employees need to give you 21 days notice before they take unpaid parental leave and are carried over from job-to-job.


Can I delay an employee’s unpaid parental leave?


Yes, as long as you have a ‘significant reason’ (such as causing damage to your business), and it’s not being taken because of the birth or adoption of a child, and the delay wouldn’t make them ineligible to take unpaid parental leave (because their child would turn 18).


If you do choose to delay, you’ll need to explain why you’re delaying it in writing within a week of them making the response and give them a new proposed start date.


Other types of statutory leave

There are other types of statutory leave that are given to employees in order to fulfill civilian duties such as jury service or attending court as a magistrate.


Jury service

If an employee is called to jury service, you have to give them time off. If you terminate employment when an employee is on jury service you could face an employment tribunal.


If you feel that a certain employee going on jury service may be detrimental to your business, you can request that they attempt to delay it.


It’s not legally required that you pay your staff whilst they’re on jury service, but many employers choose to anyway.


Magistrate duty


If you have an employee who is a magistrate, you are legally required to give them reasonable time off in order to fulfill their duties. Magistrates are needed in court for a minimum of 13 days (or 26 half-days) every year. You are not required to pay them for their time off for magistrate duties, however, many employers choose to.


Other non-statutory leave

Non-statutory leave is not required by law. Rather these types of leave are offered to employees at employers’ discretion.


Extended leave / career break


Extended leave, also often called ‘career breaks’ or ‘sabbaticals’, are not a statutory type of leave. It is up to you whether you want to offer this kind of leave to your staff.


Often, employees will want to take a break from their career after a few years to make time to undertake further education or go travelling, for example.


If you decide to give your workers the ability to take a sabbatical, you should stipulate exactly how it works, how they can apply to take this kind of leave, and how long they’re able to be off work. Additionally, you need to inform your employees whether their contract continues even when they’re on their extended leave.


Duvet days


Duvet days are not a statutory type of leave and not all employers off these. Duvet days are where an employee takes leave without notice. Employers who choose to include duvet days in their staff’s leave allowance usually detail this in their employment contract.

What happens when an employee hands in their notice?


When an employee hands in their notice, there are a few considerations related to pay and holiday allowance that employers should be aware of. The crossover between payroll and HR is particularly noticeable at this moment in the employee lifecycle, which is why using a software like Zelt makes handling this so much easier.


Payment during notice period


After an employee hands in their notice, they’re still entitled to receive their normal pay up until the date that they finish working for you. This includes SSP, holiday pay, and maternity/paternity pay.


‘Payment in Lieu’ for notice period


If you want an employee to leave immediately, you can choose to give them a one-off payment called ‘payment in lieu’ - as long as they agree to it (or it’s included in your employment contract).


Restrictive covenants


You can also include ‘restrictive covenants’ in your employment contracts which prevent your employees from working with a competitor or contacting your customers for a set amount of time after they leave.


Gardening leave


Gardening leave is where you ask your employee not to come into work or work at another location during their notice period. You still pay them as normal and they enjoy all their contractual rights.


FAQs about Types of Leave UK


How can I make sure that I’m calculating my employees’ leave correctly?


Either you need to have a detailed understanding of how to calculate your employees’ different types of leave or you roll out a unified payroll and HR software like Zelt to handle everything for you.


What are the different leave types?


There are statutory leaves of absence (such as sick leave or annual holiday) and discretionary leaves of absence that an employer can choose to offer to their staff (such as duvet days).


How much sick leave is allowed in the UK?

There is no statutory limit to sick leave. However, SSP can be paid for a maximum of 28 weeks per year.


What counts as statutory leave UK?


Most workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year - and this is what is referred to as statutory leave.


How many days is statutory leave?


This depends on the worker’s working pattern. For example, if they’re a part time worker that typically works 3 days a week, their holiday entitlement would be 5.6*3 = 16.8 days.


What are employees’ rights when on leave?


When on statutory leave, employees rights are not usually affected. However, the status of employee rights when on non-statutory leave is discretionary and depends on what was agreed in the employment contract.