Being a working parent is hard. For many parents, men and women trying to balance running a home, looking after children and succeeding at work can be one long headache. From managing the school run to making sure work deadlines are met, at times this can seem overwhelming.

Thankfully, UK employment law does acknowledge the struggle and daily difficulties working families can face and there are a number of ‘family friendly’ rights within the law offering some protection.

For example all employees can request flexible working. This means they can request a change to their normal pattern or work. This might relate to working hours, shifts patter, place of work or homeworking. Employers must follow a reasonable procedure to consider the request. If the request is turned down then the employer has to provide justifiable business reasons. If the request is made by a woman and refused then it is possible that the woman may have a claim for indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. This is on the basis that women are still more often the parent with primary responsibility for childcare. Therefore if a request is refused, and it can be shown this places them at a disadvantage and this cannot be justified by the business then this can be discrimination under the act.

Parents also have rights to some additional types of leave when absence is required from work due to being a parent. 

Parents are protected from being dismissed or subjected to any poor treatment because they have had to take time off in relation to emergencies relating to children through dependant’s leave. Although the right is to unpaid leave and only relates to emergency situations. Therefore, if for example a child is ill for a number of days an employer can expect an employee to make arrangements once the nature of the situation is known. This can still create a headache for parents whose children are ill and cannot attend school or childcare. 

Parental leave is also available to all parents up until their child’s 18th birthday. A parent can take a total of 18 weeks parental leave during this period. Leave must be taken in whole weeks and again the right is unpaid. An employee must give 21 days’ notice before they can take parental leave.

Finally, in recent years shared parental leave has also been introduce to allow fathers to share part of the traditional maternity leave period. Fathers can take a period of shared parental leave if their partner ends their maternity leave period early to return to work. This has been a significant shift in the law relating to maternity leave and has allowed families greater flexibility as to how they manage the period after a child is born both financially and practically.

Rachel Clayton
Solicitor
Employment for Individuals