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While Covid-19 has brought the issue of childcare into sharp relief, through the closing of the school bubble and a phone call to a parent (usually Mum) that your child needs to self-isolate, the work/childcare balance is a long running conundrum. More and more parents are choosing to home school and many of the parents who choose to do this, will also have jobs.

So what are your options?

Almost all employees have a right to take time off work (although not necessarily with pay) to care for their children.

Circumstances that may give rise to needing unpaid time off include:

  • Where an employee must attend to unexpected problems with a child
  • where child-care arrangements break down

These are covered by time off for dependents rules. It should be remembered that it is a right to unpaid time off to resolve the issue and while not defined in terms of the length of time, one should expect the employee to be back at work within a day or two. So it doesn’t cover when employees find themselves without childcare for 10 days or more.

Those exercising their right to time off for dependents have the right not to suffer a detriment for taking the leave.

For those issues that cannot be resolved as quickly, there is Parental Leave.

To be eligible for parental leave, employees need to have worked for their employer for one year and have one qualifying child. They are entitled to take 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave before their child’s 18th birthday. An employee has 18 weeks leave for each qualifying child they have. Unless the child is subject to disability living allowance or PIP, the leave can only be taken in blocks of 1 week and at time and a maximum of 4 weeks can be taken in any one year per child. If the employer can’t authorise the parental leave request they are entitled to offer an alternative.

What other options exist?

For those situations where neither of the above will work, the employer can consider if the employee ought to exercise the right to request flexible working. Provided the employee has worked for their employer continuously for at least 26 weeks, they have the right to make a request for flexible working.

Such requests can be made by employees for any reason and must be made in writing. However, only one request can be made in any 12-month period. An employer does not legally have to agree to this and can justify the rejection of a request for flexible working if there are legitimate business grounds to do so.

It is the right to request a change NOT a right to get the change the employee wants. Employers can also accommodate requests for flexible working made outside the statutory scheme if they wish to do so.

But what if employer and employee cannot agree and there is a situation where work takes second place to childcare?

Speak to the employee and see if any of the options above might help or whether there might be some other avenue that might be explored.

Ultimately, if an arrangement cannot be sorted out, and an employee is perceived as “taking the mickey” or “getting away with it” then you probably need to seek HR advise on how to deal with it more formally.

If you need any assistance with managing an employee experiencing childcare problems please contact us on 01527 909436.