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The summer holidays are looming and this week has seen several reports and surveys on the issue of term-time holidays, given the cost of taking them once school has closed for the summer. Our new poll [at the bottom right of this page] focuses on summer childcare. Previous surveys have shown many parents leave it until the last minute to arrange cover due to the expense of holiday clubs and schemes. Should employers give priority to parents with regard to taking time off during the holidays so they can manage the long break? Alastair Brown, Chief Technological Officer at People Management Software company BrightHR, explores the issues.
Whilst it is important for parents to be allowed time off to spend with their children, it could arguably be damaging for staff morale if leave priority was granted to those with families. As we approach the school six-week holidays, employers will likely receive increased requests for annual leave. The placement of these holidays in the middle of summer, usually at the end of July and throughout August, can result in a significant number of workers requesting leave at the same time, including staff members who have not got any children.
Although the Working Time Regulations 1998 instructs that all employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid leave per year, managers are under no obligation to accept all leave requests. It is down to the discretion of the employer when their workforce takes annual leave, meaning you are well within your rights to refuse a parent’s request for leave over the summer and under no expectation to prioritise this over a colleague’s. However, when reaching a decision, it is important to remember the impact that your actions may have upon your staff.
By denying parents the chance to spend more time with their children whilst they are away from school for a prolonged period, you strongly risk them becoming demoralised within their role and this having a detrimental effect to their output. Another issue that can arise is the issue of fairness. Other employees may feel system is unfair if they are denied requests in favour of their colleagues regardless of the reason. It is important to remember that all employees place great significance on their leave entitlement and refusal can often be met with annoyance.
In these situations, business owners should ensure that no employee is receiving preferential treatment. A strong “first come, first served” rule should be implemented, ensuring an open and fair policy that allows all employees the chance to request leave for the same period. From here, employees with young families could be strongly encouraged to make their requests as early as possible or risk disappointment. Organisations could also consider allowing parents of young children flexible hours during the summer in order to assist them with childcare arrangements and potentially dissuade an additional requirement for time off. It should be noted that, in situations where parents need time away to deal with unexpected child caring issues, they may be entitled to a one to two day “time off for dependants” period that would usually be unpaid.
When taking requests for annual leave, managers should always be open and honest with their workforce. Whilst employers should try to approve the leave if possible, they should avoid prioritising requests from any employee.