In light of the recent school closures due to crumbling RAAC concrete and given that we are moving into the seasons where viruses are more prevalent, our employment team consider below what employees’ rights are if their children cannot attend school/nursery.

Time off for family and dependants

Employees can request a reasonable amount of time off to deal with unforeseen or emergency situations involving a dependant. Children being sent home from school or nursery would fall into this category.

Whilst it is normally taken for short periods of time, there is no set amount of time an employee is allowed off work. There is an argument to say that it should last as long as the child has to stay off school and other family members/friends cannot assist. However, what is reasonable really does depend on an individual’s circumstances. Disruption caused to the employer’s business should not be taken into account.

The right to time off, however, only applies if the employee tells their employer: (1) as soon as reasonably practicable, the reason for their absence; and (2) how long they expect to be away from work.

This type of leave is usually unpaid unless the employer has a policy in place which provides it to be paid. 

An employee who is refused permission to take time off or who is subjected to a detriment for taking it (or seeking to take it) may make a complaint to an employment tribunal. If an employee is dismissed because they took or sought to take time off they will be able to claim unfair dismissal, even if they have been employed for less than 2 years.

Parental Leave

Parental Leave is available to all employees who have 1 years’ continuous service, who have children under 18 years of age.  Employees can take 4 weeks’ leave per child, per year in blocks of 1 week.

Employees must give 21 days’ notice (albeit this can be shorter by agreement) and unfortunately, unlike dependant’s leave, an employer can refuse a request for parental leave or postpone it where there would be disruption to their business if it were allowed.

Again, this type of leave is usually unpaid unless the employer has a policy in place which provides for the employee to be paid. 

Flexible Working

Employees can ask their employer to alter their working arrangements to allow them to continue to work and care for their child/children at the same time, or alternate/share the responsibility with their partner/spouse.  This could include allowing an employee to work from home (where possible) or altering their hours / days of work. 

If an employee wishes to make a flexible working request, say to deal with the ramifications of a school closure, they should make clear such a change is temporary. An employee will need to include the duration of the requested temporary change to their contract in their request which may be problematic as this may be unknown.

Related Reading: Flexible Working – How Flexible must an Employer be?

Annual Leave

In addition to the above, employees have the option to take their annual leave (if their employer is agreeable), if they wish to continue to be paid to deal with emergency situations or where their child is unwell. This is unlikely to be a viable option in the event of a school/nursery closure, where an employee may be looking at a lengthy period of time where they may struggle to cover childcare.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly in the workplace due to the issues discussed above, please do get in touch with our Employment Team on 0161 930 5151 or email or complete the online contact form

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