Back to school: flexible working and leave rights for parents and carers

The new school year is fast approaching. For many parents, it will be the first time they’ve had to make sure their work is flexible enough to allow them to do drop-offs, pick-ups, and before and after school activities. Other parents and carers may also be facing new arrangements that work will need to fit around.

For all of these people, employment law offers rights to various flexible working arrangements and, when necessary, time off to deal with situations involving dependants. Lots of these rights are granted by the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA). These legal rights and situations include:

Flexible working 

The term ‘flexible working’ encompasses most working arrangements outside of the ‘ordinary’ – including working from home, part-time, or compressed hours (ie working your regular quota of hours over fewer days). 

If an employee has at least 26 weeks of service with their employer, they are entitled to make a request for a flexible working arrangement, which their employer must at least consider. If the employer chooses to refuse the request, they must do so based on one of the eight reasons permitted under the ERA. These include that flexible working would incur additional costs or it would negatively impact the business’ ability to meet customer demands or quality or performance aims. 

For more information, read Flexible working. You can also use our Flexible working request template to formally ask your employer for a flexible working arrangement. 

Time off for dependants

Employees have a right to take a reasonable amount of time off work when such is necessary to enable them to take action that’s required to assist one of their dependants with an unexpected or sudden emergency. Employees can take time off to provide immediate assistance (eg to pick up a child from school) or to make ongoing arrangements for support (eg by arranging a carer). What qualifies as a ‘dependant’ and as an ‘emergency’ can be quite broad. For example, an elderly neighbour who depends on the employee for assistance when they’re ill could be a dependant, and an emergency doesn’t always need to occur suddenly. 

For more information, read the information accompanying Rocket Lawyer’s Time off for dependants policy

Unpaid parental leave

People with parental responsibility (eg biological parents, adoptive parents, and legal guardians) have a legal right to take unpaid time off work once they’ve accrued 12 months of service with an employer. This leave is to be taken so that the employee can help care for a child at any point before the child’s 18th birthday. 

Although employers can postpone a request for this leave, employees must be allowed to take it. It can be used for things like looking after children during school holidays, caring for them when they’re ill, or even going on holidays or to events with them. 

For more information, read Parental leave

How to make use of these rights

Employees should consider making use of these various statutory rights to take time off or to tailor their work schedules to facilitate care arrangements. You can even make use of these rights for exciting activities like family holidays.

The best way to be sure of your rights and to promote a healthy, communicative relationship with your employer is to (when possible) discuss with them any rights you’re planning to exercise before you do so. Your employer may also offer enhanced entitlements, which they can communicate to you in discussion, via employment policies or handbooks. 

If you’re unsure about your rights as an employee, or if you think your employer isn’t upholding your rights, you can Ask a lawyer for help or use the ACAS helpline.


India Hyams