Can a flexible working request cover just the summer holidays?

School’s out for the summer and many working parents are wondering how they are going to manage with work and childcare.  So what are the rules and can you take out a flexible working request just to cover the summer holidays? Workingmums.co.uk looks at new advice from Acas.

School’s out for the summer and many working parents are wondering how they are going to manage with work and childcare.  So what are the rules and can you take out a flexible working request just to cover the summer holidays? Workingmums.co.uk looks at new advice from Acas.
 
The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has published a new advice booklet – Holidays and holiday pay designed to help businesses and parents navigate the holiday allowance process.
 
Recently, The Daycare Trust, a national childcare charity revealed a huge gap in the provision of holiday childcare. It found that only 20% of local authority Family Information Services (FIS) are able to state that they have sufficient holiday childcare in place to meet parental need. This is down from one third last year. According to the findings, 63% reported that parents had complained of a lack of childcare in their area – rising to 88% in the south east region and with the average cost of childcare in Britain this summer set to stand at £558 per child the situation is looking both expensive and tricky for many working parents.
 
Commenting,   Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Daycare Trust said: “Where provision is available, parents are being expected to shell out the equivalent  cost of a family holiday abroad over the course of the summer – simply for the privilege of having their children looked after so that they can attend work."
 
So how can employers help and what holiday allowance should they be giving to parents?
 
Holiday allowances:
Acas advise that the current leave allowance for most workers, whether part-time or full-time, is 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave. If a worker does a five-day week, they are entitled to 28 days leave. If they work a three-day week, the entitlement is 16.8 days leave.
 
Clearly with Christmas, Easter and half-term breaks, however, being at home for the entire summer holidays is just not possible within the leave entitlements, although additional annual leave may be agreed as part of a worker’s contract. So what happens if an employee asks if they can take three weeks holiday during the school summer break?
 
Acas say this is permittable so long as the employer can manage the time-off request taking into account the business needs and the levels of staffing required. For many businesses, summer can be a very quiet time and taking a long break during August is the ideal time to go away but for other enterprises those that work in the hospitality and catering industry for example it may coincide with a peak period and if the pressures are too much on the business then they can legally refuse such a request if too many people are on leave at the same time. So the first thing to do is to plan ahead, if you know you are faced with a summer childcare problem then book as far in advance as possible – that way you will be first in line for a ‘yes’ and you can save on paying out for additional childcare that may well be unaffordable on top of everything else. So as soon as you get the term dates, start planning.
 
It is also worth noting that it is perfectly legitimate for a business to dictate when annual leave cannot be taken. Acas say that, “Some organisations have shutdowns when employees have to take leave, others may stop people taking leave during busy periods at certain times of the year.” So if you’re starting a new job be sure that you understand if any special ruling regards taking leave applies.
 
Can a flexible working request cover just the summer holidays?
For many working parents having some flexibility in the working week to manage the long summer holidays is the ideal solution. That might be working from home to co-ordinate pick up and drop offs to summer camps, play dates or other activities which might just involve you nipping out to drop them off and then returning to your home office. Or you might consider working half days and making up the hours in the evening or at the weekend so you can spend more time with your children.
 
Whatever your situation the first thing to do is to submit a flexible working request. Acas say any new working pattern must be agreed between the employer and the employee but warn that: “Once agreed, it will make a permanent change to the contract of employment.” If this sounds far from ideal then you could go down the ‘informal’ route and Acas simply advise that you can negotiate this with your employee. Setting out clearly and in a timely fashion how you are going to work flexibly in order to manage childcare during the summer holidays can work well for both the employee and the employer, again the best tip is to organise this as far in advance as possible so you can organise your diary accordingly and prep colleagues with time to spare.
 

Taking emergency childcare leave:

Even the best laid plans can fail, however. So what happens if you are let down by your childminder? Can you take it as extra leave? Acas say that in this instance the employee needs to apply to take ‘time off for dependants’. This gives employees time off to deal with any emergencies. Sadly for many working parents this can cause further difficulties because employers don’t have to pay for emergency leave and you are only afforded to take around one or two days or what is considered reasonable given the circumstances. Clearly a lot of employers will and do pay full pay for the period you are off but many will not look favourably upon you if the reason for your absence from work is simply that you haven’t sorted out your summer childcare and indeed this may not even count as ‘emergency time off’. So book your childcare if you need it and have a back up plan if your childminder lets you down.
 





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