Can an employer refuse an employee's request to take shared parental leave or require him or her to take it at a different time?

Whether or not an employer can refuse an employee's request to take shared parental leave depends on the pattern of leave that the employee has requested when giving the employer a "period of leave notice".

If an employee submits a period of leave notice requesting one continuous period of leave, the employer must allow him or her to take the period of leave on the dates requested. It cannot require him or her to take it at a different time, for example to avoid the employee being absent during a particularly busy period for the business or when other employees are also absent.

If an employee submits a period of leave notice requesting discontinuous periods of leave, eg two weeks' leave beginning on 1 June, four weeks' leave beginning on 1 August and four weeks' leave beginning on 1 December, the employer can refuse the employee's request. The employer can suggest alternative dates for a period or periods of leave, but is not obliged to do so.

If his or her request for discontinuous leave is refused, the employee can withdraw the notice or agree alternative dates with the employer. If he or she has not done either within two weeks of the date of the notice, the employee can either withdraw the notice at that point or take the total amount of leave requested in the leave notice as a continuous period of leave (ie one period of 10 weeks' leave, in the example above). The employee can choose a start date for the continuous period of leave that is no less than eight weeks from the date of the leave notice.

However, an employee who wishes to take discontinuous periods of leave can achieve this by requesting each period in a separate period of leave notice. An employer can refuse a request for leave only if the employee requests discontinuous periods of leave in the same notice. An employee can submit up to three separate leave notices. Therefore, as long as the employee gives a separate notice and at least eight weeks' notice of each period of leave, he or she could take up to three separate periods of leave, without the employer having the right to refuse the request.