When you take on the care of a child, it can be difficult to balance all the different demands on your time. There may be lots of meetings to attend – for example, with social services, solicitors or the child’s school. You may need to arrange care for them after school, during the school holidays and if they are unwell. You may not want them being looked after by someone else if they have been through a lot of difficulties. All these factors may cause you to rethink your current working arrangements.
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.
Time off for dependents
All employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with emergencies involving someone who depends on them and to make any arrangements that are needed. This applies regardless of how long you have been working for your employer or whether you have child or adult care responsibilities. You must let your employer know what is happening and get back to work as soon as you can. Your employer doesn’t have to pay you for taking time off for dependants but they may choose to do so. You can check your employment contract or staff handbook to see if there’s a policy about this.
Some employers do allow a number of days per year as carers’ leave or emergency leave, but they do not have to pay you for this time unless it is in your contract.
Parental leave was introduced to give parents of children under 5, or disabled children under 18, the right to take time off work to look after their children. To be eligible, you must be an employee, have worked for your employer for at least a year, and have legal parental responsibility for the child – for example, a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order. Foster carers do not have rights to parental leave.
Parental leave is normally unpaid, although if your income is very low, you may be entitled to Income Support during parental leave. You can contact our advice service for more information on this.
If you qualify, you are allowed up to 18 weeks parental leave for each child. You can take a maximum of 4 weeks in one year for each qualifying child.
Some employers may have more generous parental leave provisions and also give leave to parents or carers who don’t qualify under the statutory scheme.
Flexible working is any working pattern that is adapted for the benefit of the individual and that also suits their employer. This may include part-time, flexi-time, compressed hours, staggered hours, term time only, job sharing or working from home.
Anyone can ask their employer for flexible working arrangements but the law gives some employees the statutory right to request a flexible work pattern.
This right applies if you or your partner have or expect to have responsibility for a child under 17, a disabled child under 18 or a disabled adult, and you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks. This right extends to foster carers as well as people with a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order.
While you may have the right to ask for flexible working, it is up to your employer whether to grant it. Employers have to consider such requests seriously and can only refuse for good business reasons.
It is important to understand that a change granted under the right to request flexible working is permanent, so consider the future implications carefully. Any reduction in hours may have an impact on benefits such as Working Tax Credit, so you may need to get advice about this before making any decisions. If you want a temporary change only, this must be negotiated with your employer.
Even if you do not have the right to request flexible working (for example if you have not worked for your employer for long enough), you can still ask to change your pattern of work, and sex discrimination law may apply if you are turned down.
See the gov.uk website for more information on making an application for flexible working. For further information or advice about your employment rights when you are caring for a child call our advice service on 0300 123 7015 or contact one of the organisations listed below.
Advice for parents and carers on their rights at work.
Telephone 08457 47 47 47. Opening hours 8am-8pm Monday-Friday, 9am-1pm Saturday
Confidential, independent and impartial advice on employment rights and rules.