Flexible working and time off
As a working parent, you may have a legal right to take time off in certain circumstances. You may also be able to request a change in your working week to help you juggle your work and caring responsibilities.
If you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks you normally have the right to apply to your employer for flexible working arrangements, for example a change to the times or hours you work or the option to work from home.
Employers must consider such requests seriously and are only able to refuse the request when there is a clear business reason.
Who is entitled to flexible working?
To be eligible to make a request for flexible working under the current provisions you must:
- have worked for your employer for 26 weeks on the date the application is made
- not be an agency worker or member of the armed forces
- not have made an application for flexible working in the past 12 months.
As long as you meet these tests you can ask for flexible working regardless of whether you have caring responsibilities or not.
Parental leave gives parents the right to take time off work to look after their children. Parental leave is normally unpaid but some employers have more generous provisions. Check your contract of employment.
Who qualifies for parental leave?
To qualify for leave parents must have worked for an employer continuously for one year and must give at least 21 days' notice. They must also use the leave time to care for their child.
Parents who qualify must be allowed at least 18 weeks unpaid leave for each child aged under 18, regardless of whether they are disabled or not.
Both parents have the right to parental leave so each can take up to 18 weeks leave per child, to be used before the child's 18th birthday.
How can I take parental leave?
Normally you have to take parental leave in blocks of one week or more. However parents of disabled children can take leave a day at a time. This means you could use parental leave for regular hospital visits.
The maximum amount of leave a parent can take for any one child in one year is normally four weeks, but your employer can let you take a longer period of parental leave each year if they wish.
You must give at least 21 days notice. Your employer may ask you to postpone your leave if it would cause disruption to their business. Seek further advice if this happens to you.
Returning to work
If you take four weeks or less parental leave you are guaranteed returning to your same job. If you take more than four weeks and it is not reasonably possible for you to be allowed to return to your old job, you are entitled to a similar job with the same or better status as the previous one.
Time off for dependents
You can take time off work to deal with an emergency relating to a dependent. This could be a parent, partner, child, or someone for whom an individual has sole care. Your employer cannot penalise you for taking dependants leave as long as your reasons for taking this leave are genuine. Any leave you take will be unpaid unless your contract of employment says otherwise.
When can you take time off for a dependent?
You are allowed time off only to deal with emergencies or other unexpected events. For example if your dependant:
- is ill and needs your help to provide assistance or to make arrangements for the provision of care
- is involved in an accident or assaulted
- needs you to deal with an unexpected disruption or breakdown in care such as a childminder or nurse failing to turn up
- goes into labour
- dies, and you need to make funeral arrangements or attend the funeral
- is involved in an unexpected incident at school that you need to deal with.
You cannot take dependants leave to deal with a situation that was foreseen or planned. In these situations, you would need to take parental leave (see above), annual leave or other any other available leave.
How much time off can I take?
Time off for dependents only covers the time taken to make alternative arrangements. For anything longer term you will need to use parental, annual or other leave. You must notify your employer of the reasons for your absence as soon as possible and tell them how long you expect to be absent.
The amount of time you take must be reasonable in all the circumstances. Normally this will only be a day or two but this may vary depending on the individual circumstances. Seek specialist employment law advice if you think that you will need more than a day or two's leave.
As an employee you may also be entitled to time off if you or your partner has either had a baby or adopted a child in the last year.