Kate Palmer of HR experts Peninsula outlines how employers can help employees with childcare problems over the summer.
The summer holidays can be a struggle for working parents as they look to put in place childcare arrangements whilst the schools are shut.
During this time, employers will likely see an influx of requests for annual leave and may have to not allow some of their employees to take leave at this time if these overlap. It is entirely down to employers if they choose to allow parents to bring their child into work in these situations, but they should consider this option carefully.
There can be times when child caring arrangements break down and the employee feels they have no option but to bring their child into work with them. Employers should proceed with this option with caution. Having a child on the premises could present significant health and safety issues, whilst also creating an added distraction for the employee themselves if they are having to take time out of their day to check on their child. Allowing one employee to do this may also open the flood gates for similar requests and employers are highly unlikely to want this to be a regular occurrence.
If employers are willing to allow this, the exact conditions for which this will be permitted should be clearly outlined within company policies, alongside who will have responsibility for the child whilst they are on the premises and where they are permitted to be. It is also advisable to clearly state that this is a last case scenario, to strictly limit the amount of time a child can be in the working environment and encourage employees to consider other options that may be available to them.
All employees have a day-one right to take ‘time off for a dependant’ in times of an emergency, including situations that involve a spouse or child. Flexible working is also an alternative to accommodate working parents during the school holidays, as all employees with 26 weeks’ service will have the right to request a change in working arrangements, but employers do not have to allow this if such a system would disrupt their business.
Another option is parental leave. This enables working parents to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave to look after their child’s welfare until they reach 18. Parental leave is usually taken in blocks of one to two weeks unless it is for the care of a disabled child, when it can be taken in blocks of a day. It is also mostly restricted to a maximum of four weeks in any year unless the employer and employee agree otherwise. In the UK, all parents who have worked for a company longer than a year are eligible to take parental leave. However, they must provide 21 days’ notice to do so. Employers are under no obligation to allow this if the employee rings them on a morning when they are supposed to be in work.
Whether they choose to allow this or not, employers should bear in mind that working parents are more likely to remain loyal to a company that is willing to assist them in their child caring commitments and, to this end, always be prepared to explore options to do this.