Time off for dependants: ask the expert

I have two children aged seven and one. I returned to work last November. I’ve worked for the company for 11 years and held a managerial position, but after having my children I didn’t feel I could commit to that particular job fully. I therefore returned on an admin basis for two days a week. I love my job and love working the two days. My youngest attends nursery and is at the stage where she is catching everything going. Since starting back at work in November she has had gastroenteritis twice which has meant that I have had a total of three days off counted as ‘time off for dependants’ on two separate occasions. I am fully aware that I won’t be paid for these days and nor do I expect to be. I have just been called into a meeting with my manager to discuss my attendance and he said he has been asked by the director to talk to me to put it in writing. I questioned this and asked what the next course of action would be if either of my children were ill again – after all, I cannot guarantee they won’t be. My manager didn’t really know – he was just acting as the messenger and he actually felt it was an unjust conversation and could see that I had no alternative but to take the time off when the children were ill. My manager asked HR if the meeting had to be documented in writing and they said at this stage it was just a chat. I didn’t feel as if was a chat at all. I feel totally under pressure about the situation and I am worried about what will happen if either of my children are ill again. There are other mums in the office too and they have had time off in the past, but I know that they have not been spoken to and what’s more they have been paid, but I am happy not to be paid. There are also other people within the office who have got far worse attendance records than me and they also have not been spoken to. I feel as if I am always treated differently to everyone else as I’ve worked directly under the director for many years before he was a director. My manager also said he was in a foul mood because his car had been hit before he came to the branch and that may have prompted him to act in the way that he has. Can they put pressure on me for the time I have taken, given that it has been unpaid and taking into account that the illness was short? Please could you advise me? Thanks

As you referred to in your email, there is a statutory regulation that allows an employee to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid leave in order to care for a child in case of emergency. ‘Reasonable’ is not defined in employment law. This unpaid leave is deemed to be available for short-term emergencies and also to enable the carer to arrange alternative childcare/care for the dependant. Normally an employer will have a meeting in advance of the situation becoming ‘unreasonable’ to try to agree a way forward and to give the employee ‘advance’ warning so they have an opportunity to resolve the problem/make alternative arrangements if possible.
It sounds like your line manger has been told to have a “conversation” with you but didn’t really know what he should be discussing with you. The fact that you mention HR means that you have an HR department and therefore I am disappointed that your line leader had not spoken to them before sitting you down for what must have been a confusing discussion. I would therefore suggest that you set up a meeting with your HR department to find out what the attendance procedure is for your company and what, if any, is seen as an unacceptable level of absence since it is not clear from your information if they think you have had too much time off or whether you are being singled out for a particular reason. The fact that all the time you have had off is unpaid and yet you believe others are having time off which is paid should also be addressed with HR.
You might also want to consider Parental Leave if more than a couple of days is required to care for a child – this is unpaid too – but is a statutory right and would be another way of showing to your company that you are trying to be proactive when you have issues at home. You can find out more about Parental Leave via ACAS or the www.berr.gov.uk website.
Good luck!
Whilst every care has been taken in compiling this answer, WorkingMums cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice
 

 





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