When you take on the care of a child, it can be difficult to balance all the different demands on your time. There might 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 could  cause you to rethink your current working arrangements.

Before you make any decisions about work, it’s important that you’re aware of the different options that might be open to you. 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, but they do not have to pay you for this time unless it is in your contract.

Unpaid parental leave

To be eligible for parental leave, you must be an employee who has worked for your employer for at least a year. You must also have legal parental responsibility for a child aged under 18. This means that people with Child Arrangements Orders, Residence Orders and Special Guardianship Orders can all qualify for parental leave. Foster carers do not have rights to parental leave.

Parental leave is normally unpaid, although if your income is  low, you may be entitled to Income Support or Universal Credit 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

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.

Since 30th June 2014 all employees have had the legal right to request flexible working, not just parents and carers. Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.

While you may have the right to ask for flexible working, it is up to your employer whether to grant it. Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’ and can only refuse for good business reasons. They should usually make a decision within three months of the request.

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.

See www.gov.uk for further information about making an application for flexible working. More detail is available on the ACAS website including advice on what you can do if your application is refused. 

For further information or advice about your employment rights when you are caring for a child, contact our advice service or one of the organisations listed below.

Working Families
Helpline 0300 012 0312
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.workingfamilies.org.uk

Advice for parents and carers on their rights at work.

Helpline 0300 123 1100. Opening hours 8am-6pm Monday to Friday.
Website: www.acas.org.uk

Confidential, independent and impartial advice on employment rights and rules.