In total, you are entitled to take 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child, until the child is 18 years old. You may not take more than 4 weeks’ of parental leave in any one year. If you are taking parental leave to care for a child with autism, your employer should permit you to take the leave one day at a time (rather than having to take it in week-long blocks, for example).
By law, you should give your employer 21 days’ notice of parental leave but it may be the case that your employer agrees for you to provide less notice than this, so it is worth checking whether your employer has a policy in regards to parental leave. You could do so by looking at your Staff Handbook or speaking to a member of Human Resources. Some employers may even be willing to continue to pay you whilst you are on parental leave, although they are not obliged to do so.
Your employer may request that you postpone your parental leave if they have a ‘significant reason’ to do so, such as serious disruption to the business. If your employer postpones the parental leave, they must write to you explaining why within 7 days of the original request and suggest a new date.
It is also worth noting that, in an unexpected and emergency situation, you are entitled to take unpaid time off work to care for your child – this is known as emergency leave. Emergency leave would not be appropriate where you need to take your child to a planned medical appointment, but if a medical emergency arises, you would be entitled to take unpaid emergency leave and your employer may not penalise you for doing so. You should let your employer know of the emergency as soon as possible and provide an estimate as to how long you think you may be off work.