Your rights to time off work if you have a childcare emergency this Christmas
Parents or those responsible for young children quite rightly have more rights at work than others – something that’s especially important if something suddenly goes wrong with childcare.
Like a childcare emergency in the school holidays, for instance.
From Monday 19 December, many schools up and down the country will be closing their doors for the end of year festivities. For families, it means using up annual leave to care for them, arranging childcare or paying for a nursery.
But what happens if all fails at the last minute?
It’s been known to happen and having no one to care for the kids is a genuine emergency – so what are your employment rights?
The good news is that you are allowed time off in such instances and your employer can’t technically refuse you.
"In an emergency, you are entitled to take time off to make sure your child is looked after. This is known as dependant leave," said Tracey Moss, employment expert at Citizens Advice.
"Your employer can’t refuse you dependent leave if you have no other choice, and you can’t be disciplined or sacked for taking the time off."
It’s important to note that while your employer has to authorise your absence – it will, in most cases be unpaid.
"If your employer won’t give you time off, or has disciplined you for having to look after your child, contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help."
Citizens Advice: What to do if you need time off
- Speak to your manager – Different employers have different policies. They may allow you to take paid time off, annual leave or to make up the hours later in the week.
- Request parental leave – If you need more than a week off, ask for parental leave. You will have to have been working for your employer for more than a year.
- Request dependant leave – this is for use in emergencies. If your manager refuses, you may have to leave anyway. If they try to discipline or sack you for leaving you can get support from Citizens Advice.
Financial support for parents
Time off to care for a child – explained
All employees have the right to time off during working hours to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies.
There is no legal right to be paid; however some employers may offer a contractual right to pay under the terms and conditions of employment, Acas explains.
In most cases a day or two will be sufficient to deal with the immediate crisis, but it will depend on the individual circumstance – many employers will choose to pay you for up to two days. Time off beyond this may result in unpaid leave.
A dependant is defined as a spouse, partner, child, parent, or someone who depends on an employee for care, an elderly neighbour for example.
The employee must tell the employer as soon as possible the reason for the absence and how long they expect to be absent.
It’s important to note:
Time off for dependants is unpaid unless an employer is willing to give paid time off under the terms and conditions of employment.
The right is to a reasonable amount of time off – normally a day or two but this will depend on individual circumstances.
The right to time off is to deal with emergencies involving a dependant.
A dependant is someone who depends on an employee for care.
The right to time off covers:
A breakdown in childcare
To put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives
To care for a dependant who has fallen ill or taken into hospital
To arrange or attend a funeral.
I need more time off – what about unpaid parental leave?
If a day or two is not quite enough, you can request more time off in advance – in what’s known as unpaid parental leave.
Each employee is entitled to up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 5th birthday – or 18th if the child has a disability.
The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take a year is four weeks.
You must take parental leave as whole weeks rather than odd days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or your child is disabled.
Eligible employees can request this type of leave to:
Spend more time with their children/look after them
Look at new schools
Settle children into new childcare arrangements
Spend more time with family, such as visiting grandparents
During this period, all of your employment rights will remain protected – such as annual leave entitlement and your right to return to work.
To qualify, you must:
Have worked in the organisation for more than a year
Have "parental responsibility" for the child, as defined under the Children Act 1989
Be named on the child’s birth certificate or have obtained formal legal parental responsibilities.
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