Rights on return to work: Ask the expert

I am due to return to work at the end of this month as my maternity leave has ended,and I would like to know my rights. I have been told that an employer has to accommodate me until my child turns five, and I have also been told they have to accommodate me for the first six weeks after I return. Is either of these true? I am also a single parent: does this have any effect?

From the information you have given I think you are considering asking your employer if it’s possible to either work part-time or perhaps to change your working hours/arrangements to try to accommodate your childcare and looking after your baby.

Legally, an employee is entitled to apply for a change in their working arrangements under the right to Request Flexible Working regulations providing they have a child up to the age of five. Therefore following your maternity leave, you would be entitled to make an application to your employer under this legislation. Providing that you follow the appropriate procedure when putting forward your Request (either the statutory guidelines or those set out within your company’s Handbook if one is available), your employer must seriously consider your request.

Your initial Request needs to be put forward in writing (via email, letter, fax or by completing an application form) and you should include information such as your reasons for requesting the change, the potential impact on your employer’s business and positive suggestions for overcoming any potential negative effects (eg could you do a job share?), reinforce any benefits for your employer in agreeing to your requested new hours, and confirm whether you’ve requested Flexible Working in the past (and when). You should also date your application and state that you’re requesting the change under the Right to Request Flexible Working regulations, and that you have responsibility for caring for a child/children.

An employer can refuse a request for flexible working if they can demonstrate an inability to rearrange work among existing staff; the burden of additional costs; a detrimental effect on their ability to meet customer demand; an inability to recruit additional staff or a detrimental impact on quality or performance.

Before submitting your Request form, if you want to talk to someone impartially who can take a look at all your paperwork, you could contact either ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – 08457 474747) or the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

I am not aware of any legislation that protects you specifically during your first six weeks back to work, but some companies informally may be happy to be more flexible than normal during the first few weeks back whilst you settle your child into the childcare arrangements / new routine etc. You could try to arrange a meeting with your manager and/or the Human Resources department if there is one in order to discuss this.

You may also be eligible for some Parental Leave (normally unpaid) whilst your child is 5 or under (up to 13 weeks in total, up to a maximum of four in any one year) – this may be particularly helpful as a single parent, but there is nothing specifically available as a single parent as far as I am aware.
There are also certain guidelines surrounding this entitlement to Parental Leave – for more details again you may wish to consult with ACAS or your company handbook / HR dept. Good luck!

While every care has been taken in compiling this answer, Workingmums cannot be held responsible for any errors or ommissions. This information is not intended to be a substitue for specific legal advice.

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