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What Is Marriage Leave & Is It a Thing in the UK?

Read on to find out how many Brits would benefit from additional leave allowances to enjoy their weddings and honeymoons without loss of wages

A bride and groom in their wedding attire sitting in blue striped deckchairs bringing their faces close together ready to kiss on a pebble beach

If you’ve never heard of marriage leave, then you’re not alone. 

Simply speaking, marriage leave is a work perk that allows couples to take additional time off from work to celebrate their weddings and honeymoons without their income or standard annual leave taking a hit. 

According to recent Hitched poll*, only 5% of our respondents enjoyed this perk when they got married, while a whopping 91% were shocked to hear this even existed.

If you hadn’t heard of marriage leave, despite planning a wedding, you’re not alone - it’s not something that has been rolled out in the UK, despite it being widely offered in other parts of the world. 

In Spain, employees are entitled to 15 additional days off from the date of their wedding and French businesses offer four days off to couples who are tying the knot, while civil servants in the Republic of Ireland are given an extra five days of leave to get married, and employees in Malta enjoy an additional two days of leave. 

Further afield, China’s minimum paid marriage leave is three days, while in Vietnam, employees enjoy additional days off for their own weddings, and those of a parent, sibling or child of theirs as well. Very generous indeed!

We spoke to a number of experts in the field of work perks and employment law in the UK to find out more about marriage leave and why it’s not so well known back here in Blighty.

Why Don't We Have Marriage Leave in the UK?

A groom standing in the middle of a road holding the hand of a bride in a tiered scalloped mini dress and sunglasses, looking over her shoulder at the camera

Kate Palmer HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula told us that marriage leave isn’t a priority for the government, potentially because UK employees already benefit from a considerable amount of leave as it is.

“Many UK employers will choose to provide staff with a contractual annual leave entitlement over and above the 5.6-week statutory holiday allowance. In addition to annual leave there are also family friendly leave entitlements in place, such as Maternity, Paternity and Shared Parental leave. 

“Neonatal Care Leave and Carer’s Leave will also take effect at some point in 2024. It could be argued that having additional time off specifically to get married or go on honeymoon is not needed on top of existing leave entitlements.”

That’s all well and good, except our poll data showed that for the majority of respondents (82%), their annual leave allowance was used in a way that meant they could enjoy time off to celebrate their newlywed status. For almost 1-in-10, unpaid leave was their only option when it came to taking any additional leave outside of their annual allowance, while for a small few (6%), their employers allowed them to purchase additional leave days.

Other ways newlyweds were able to take additional time off without going over their annual allowance or finding themselves out of pocket included rolling over unused annual leave days, accruing time off in lieu from overtime, taking advantage of half term holidays, and in one case, even getting married while on maternity leave.

Which made us wonder how many people would be keen to swap some of their current benefits and unused work perks for the chance to take more time off to celebrate their weddings. Almost half of those we polled (46%) said they absolutely would do this, and another third said it would depend on the perks they had to swap.

Florence Weber-Zuanigh,  diversity and inclusion expert and founder of Diversity in The Boardroom tells us that benefits packages vary a lot in the UK: “The kind of benefits package you get, especially when it comes to paid leave, can vary widely from organisation to organisation. While some bits can be negotiated before joining, there tends to be more rigidity around the holiday allowance.”

Kate agrees, and adds: “Businesses are under no obligation to offer any benefits on top of pay, holidays and statutory leave entitlements. It’s also unlikely that an organisation can ever offer a benefit package that will suit every single employee in the workplace. 

“If benefits are provided, then an employee can choose whether to utilise them. But as to the nature of the benefits on offer, it will ultimately be the decision of the employer whether they can offer any and what they are, bearing in mind what will be of benefit to the majority of the workforce rather than every single individual.” 

Again, this is fair. Especially as a quarter of those who took part in our poll rightly pointed out that not everyone plans to get married, and therefore this particular benefit is not going to actually, well, benefit every employee.

According to Florence, the types of companies who do offer things such as wedding leave are the kind of organisations that have a wider understanding of the fact that employees have a life outside of work. 

“It usually wouldn’t be just people getting married who would benefit, but a comprehensive leave policy would include as well birthday day off, days off for a move etc.,” she says. “So while a specific wedding leave does indeed only benefit people getting married, it does mean that the company is more likely to offer other kinds of benefits that would benefit everyone.

“Opening up your leave policy to include more compassionate leave, move days, mental health days and so on really shows that you don’t only value your talents when they’re being productive but also as humans overall with an actual work/life balance”

Is Marriage Leave Fair?

Rachel Weaven, HR Consultant at Face 2 Face HR agrees, and says there will always be people who don’t benefit from the perks on offer. “It's about talking to staff and making sure you are building a culture that is inclusive and that can also mean adapting your policies and procedures and what you offer them.”

On the other hand, Kate thinks businesses should “anticipate complaints from staff members” who aren’t going to benefit from the additional leave. “They will likely express concerns about any decision that means they will miss out on days off work, just because they are not getting married. This could have an impact on employee morale, retention rates and even, worst case, company reputation. 

“An employer may be better off looking at increasing their flexibility around the taking of annual leave for all employees where there is good reason to do so. For example, this might include allowing an employee to take 3 weeks annual leave in one block to get married, or to visit family abroad, when the usual cap is two weeks. That way, it is something that will potentially benefit all employees.”

This made us wonder if a nationwide “unlimited leave policy” would be the best solution to make sure everyone had the leave they needed for the time off they wanted. 

Florence says this is a perk that shows trust in employees. “Many organisations offering unlimited holidays have reported that actually employees don’t take more than the standard holiday package and can even take less in some instances. 

“However, this is a perk that does showcase trust in your employees at the polar opposite of companies who infantilised their workforce and mandate people to work from the office as they’re afraid work won’t get done otherwise."

If nothing else, Rachel says giving employees more flexibility with how they use their annual leave allowances can only be a good thing. 

“I think the world is changing and I think the way in which companies operate is changing,  and actually, offering marriage leave is just another way for employers to become more inclusive and create a culture that wants to celebrate their employees.

“When employees feel more valued, guess who benefits – the company!”

*Survey of 750 Instagram users via accurate as of 08/09/2023