Our new monthly online feature looking at thorny issues that crop up at particular times in the year. This month – can employees demand flexible working as their children go back to school? Our expert gives advice.
September sees the start of a new school year, but as the school day rarely fits neatly with the working day, those with school-aged children face the dilemma of fitting in the school run alongside their working commitments.
September may therefore see an increase in parents looking to their employer to be flexible in their working hours, but what rights do employees have?
There are three major ways that an employee can agree different working times with their employer.
- Flexible working: Employees with children under 18 who have 12 months service and have not made a request in the previous year for flexible working (i.e. reducing or adjusting hours) are eligible. If granted, terms and conditions are changed permanently and so this is a viable long term option for employees. Employers have some limited scope for turning down a request, but this is limited by laws on family friendly working and discrimination.
- Parental leave: Employees with children under age five are entitled to 13 weeks unpaid leave per child, at a maximum of four weeks per child per year and to be taken a minimum of a week at a time. Notice of 21 days should be given. This may be an option taken for those with children just settling in to school for the first time (provided the leave is before their fifth birthday or the employee has a younger child), although it is not a long term solution for them.
- Mutual agreement: Practices may be willing to be flexible with employees (either agreeing to a permanent change in hours or a more general agreement to be flexible in hours when required), particularly where an employee does not qualify to request parental leave or flexible working. It is advisable that any agreement is recorded so it is clear what has been agreed.
In all cases, care should be taken when refusing or limiting flexibility where it relates to an employees childcare arrangements to avoid falling foul of the family friendly rights or discrimination legislation.
Alison Graham is a healthcare employment lawyer at Veale Wasbrough Vizards, www.vwv.co.uk