Can I be forced to work full time if my daughter is mentally unwell?

I worked part time when my daughter was born in 2007 and then went full time when she started school. Five years ago she became mentally unwell and we had to go to several appointments with CAMHS and I was always made to feel like it was a nuisance at work. In addition she is often sent home from school.

She has recently been diagnose as on the autism spectrum. I was furloughed during Covid when her needs became greater. On my return to work in 2020 I was only given three days as work began a rota system. Later in the year, I requested parental leave as my daughter was in crisis. I was told to take as long as I needed and not to rush back. I secured an Education and Health Care Plan for my daughter and I asked if I could return part time initially.

I was forced to pick up an extra day in January because they were losing staff which left me one day to attend the multitude of appointments with my daughter. I was then asked to work the other day and I declined because of my daughter.

I recently got pulled into the office and my boss declared I was on a full-time contract. I was told the company has been lenient with me and I was asked why I can’t work around the appointments. They said I needed to do better for my child, get her more support, stop pandering to her, get support for myself and exaggerate her symptoms so that I can get transport to and from these appointments.

I stuck to my guns and said I’m in no position to do that. I haven’t worked full time since March 2020. Is this something that can be enforced on me ? What are my rights?

mental health at work open book on table and coffee Business


One of the key things is whether your contract was temporarily varied or whether the changes were so substantial that the original contract is no longer valid. Your employer allowed you to vary your contract by mutual verbal agreement to accommodate your temporary needs, but the original contract for full-time employment remained in force.

You stated you intended to resume full-time employment when your circumstances changed and you had better support for your daughter. Therefore, your employer has the legal right to require you to resume working full time because of his business needs. However, the question remains regarding your rights as a full-time employee concerning your daughter’s special needs. Your daughter may be disabled within the meaning of s.6 of the Equality Act 2010.

Unfortunately, there is no legal right to additional time off if you have a disabled child.

The options before you are as follows:

– time off such as emergency leave for dependents;
– parental leave;
– annual leave.

You have the right to take unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency for someone dependent on you. You need to inform your employer that you need the time off, its reasons, and how long you will be absent. Your employer cannot penalise you for taking time off to care for someone who is dependent on you.

I note that you have already taken parental leave. Legally, once you have been with your employer for over a year, parents with children under the age of 18 are entitled to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for each child.

Parents of a disabled child can take parental leave in blocks of a day; an employer cannot refuse or penalise you for taking parental leave.

While it would be difficult for you to attend all the appointments and look after your daughter’s needs whilst working full time, your employer is willing to accommodate your daughter’s needs and allow you to take time off work when needed.

Therefore, you should consider your employer’s compromise and work with them to find a solution that would work best for both of you.

Alternatively, you could consider a flexible working request with a view to permanently reducing your hours. The law provides a process that your employer must follow if you submit a request and whilst an employer can refuse a request they must give you a good explanation.

*Mali Smith is Employment Law Solicitor at Wright Hassall Solicitors.

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