My staff all want time off during the school holiday : what do I do?

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

July 19 2022

Once school’s out for the summer, staff with childcare responsibilities might struggle with a standard working routine. Which means you may need to make some changes…

Working parents across the UK have certain rights to time off for childcare. This is the case for any worker, regardless of their contract or how many hours they work.

Read on to learn more about your employee’s childcare rights and how to navigate the most common queries…

1. Do parents have priority over other staff if they book annual leave?

You’re likely to see many parents request annual leave over the school holiday. As summer can be such a busy time for your business, you might not be able to approve all these requests if it leaves you understaffed.

All employees have a right to the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks of annual leave a year. However, parents don’t have priority over anyone else when it comes to booking leave.

If you have a first-come, first-serve system, you’ll need to remind staff to get their requests in ahead of time, and you cannot guarantee approval.

2. How can I manage holiday clashes?

Your holiday admin is simple and easy to manage with BrightHR. This software will flag up holiday clashes and give you the chance to approve or reject requests on the go. So, you never have to worry about being understaffed.

It’s important to be accommodating. If you can’t allow time off for whatever reason, see if you and your worker can reach a compromise.

3. What if I have to reject a holiday request?

Be careful if you are rejecting holiday requests. As so many employees who request leave for childcare are women, they could accuse you of indirect sex discrimination. To avoid risk, you should have a watertight holiday policy in place.

Your holiday policy should be fair and outline the rules for booking annual leave and why you might refuse a request. When staff understand how your process works, they can’t accuse you of being unfair.

Need to set up your holiday policy?

Your HR documentation experts are on hand to craft watertight company documents that keep you safe from legal risk.

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4. How can I give staff time off for childcare?

If your employee wants time off for childcare, and they don’t or can’t take annual leave, they could:

  • take parental leave – if your employee cares for a child under 18 and has worked for you for a year or more, they are entitled to a maximum of 18 weeks of unpaid leave per child. However, they can only take 4 weeks per year (in weekly blocks) and will need to provide three weeks’ notice before taking leave
  • take time off for family and dependents – if there’s an emergency that requires them to leave work immediately

Parental leave gives staff more time to spend with their children. It’s a statutory right but still has certain rules the employee needs to follow, like giving notice.

In the event of an emergency, these rules don’t apply. Which leads to the next question…

5. What if my worker has a childcare emergency?

There might be times when staff need to take time off for childcare without notice, like if there’s an emergency.

An emergency situation for your employee might be:

  • a child is ill or injured
  • a childminder hasn’t turned up

All employees have a legal right to take time off to deal with a crisis, or if childcare arrangements fall through unexpectedly.

Unless you have a policy that says different, this time off is unpaid.

Staff will also need to notify you of their absence and how long they’ll be off.

If they don’t, you have the right to take disciplinary action.

6. How much time off can my employee take for childcare?

As it depends on the circumstances, there’s no set amount of time your employee can take off to deal with a childcare emergency. However, you should give them a reasonable amount of time – which could be anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.

If your worker takes parental leave, they can take up to 4 weeks a year per child – but only in blocks of one week at a time.

7. What if I can’t accept a parental leave request?

You cannot refuse a parental leave request, but you may be able to postpone the leave for up to six months. You can only do this if you have a good reason, like if the leave would seriously disrupt your business.

To postpone a request, you’ll need to tell your employee in writing within seven days of receiving the request. Your letter should outline your reasons for postponing.

You should then try to arrange alternative dates.

8. Are there alternatives to staff taking time off?

To try to reduce absences, you might want to consider allowing staff to work flexibly over the summer.

If you offer a flexible working arrangement to your staff, they might not even need to take time off.

A flexible work routine might involve:

  • flexi-time – staff can choose when to start and finish work (within agreed limits) to make it easier to manage work around childcare
  • remote working – staff can work from home to stay with children full-time
  • hybrid working – staff can split their time between home and the workplace to juggle childcare responsibilities with a partner
  • job sharing – staff can share a job and split responsibilities with a colleague
  • reduced hours – staff can work fewer hours, so they can spend more time at home
  • reduced workload – staff have fewer responsibilities to make the work-life balance less stressful
Thinking of setting up flexible working?

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Alleviate summer stress for working parents with HR support

Summer is tricky for a working parent. Fortunately, there are ways to support your staff without causing disruption to your business.

Want to save time on your admin? Try holiday management software.

Want to set up flexible working? Get 24/7 expert advice.

Need a watertight policy crafted for you? Get expert documentation support.

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