Childcare dilemma at Christmas: ask the expert

I have been with my employer since 2007. I returned from maternity leave in July of this year. I work 32 hours per week and my little one goes to a childminder two days a week. My childminder recently informed me that she will not be working the week between Christmas and New Year so I approached my employer and asked if I could take the two days off that the childminder would have had my son. This request was refused as we are not allowed to take leave in December (although another colleague is taking annual leave in December). I was told I need to get childcare sorted, but I have no family nearby.  Obviously I cannot leave my son at home alone so where do I stand with being able to take the time off?

If your child is under 5 years of age, you have the right to take up to 13 weeks unpaid parental leave to care for your child. An employee cannot take more than four weeks leave in respect of any individual child during a particular year. You have to give proper notice of the period of leave which you propose to take and this notice must be given to the company at least 21 days before the leave starts and must specify the date on which the period of leave is to begin and end. The company can postpone a period of parental leave if the company considers that its business would be unduly disrupted if you took leave during the period you requested. In such a case, the company must allow the employee to take a period of leave for the same period as identified in your notice, to begin on a date determined by the company after consulting with you, which would be no later than six months after the commencement of the original requested period. Also, it is important to note that an employee may not take parental leave in periods of less than 1 week. Therefore, if you exercised this right, you must take the whole week off.

Given that another employee is already taking leave in December, the fact that your leave has been refused could set the basis for a potential claim for constructive dismissal/sex discrimination.

However, you may wish to try and resolve the situation amicably with your employer. You could discuss the option of taking unpaid leave and/or refer to the right to take parental leave, as referred to above. Another option would be to have a further informal discussion with your employer to note that you do not understand why your holiday request has been refused on the basis that you are not allowed to take leave in December, when you are aware that another employee is taking leave during this time. You could also explain your personal circumstances, with your relatives living in Canada etc and the difficulty that you are faced with as a result.

If this matter is not resolved amicably, you could then lodge a formal grievance against your employer by setting out the problem in writing. Prior to doing this, you should obtain further legal advice as to your options in respect of the potential claims that you may have. You can contact Tracey Guest at Slater Heelis Solicitors on 0161 975 3823 to discuss further.

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