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How Do Employers Juggle Working Parents?

As the school holidays approach, working parents cross their fingers that their childcare plans hold. In this article I look at what employers need to consider when it comes to flexibility for working parents.

Requesting holidays

Managing competing holiday requests during school holidays can be difficult. Employers need to manage requests for flexibility and absence, and deal with the resentment from employees who feel they have to step in when parents take leave.

Many employers adopt a “first come first served” approach. Others restrict the amount of time that can be taken during particular portions of the year.

 It is best to advise employees to plan ahead, talk to each other about when they are likely to want leave and to make holiday requests as soon as possible.


  • All workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year, inclusive of bank holidays.
  • Holiday can be refused where it is not convenient to the employer.
  • Employers can require employees to take holiday on particular dates.

Antenatal appointments

Pregnant women are entitled to paid leave to attend antenatal appointments. They should not be asked to “make up time”.

Remember also that the number and timing of appointments is not the same for all women. Higher risk pregnancies, or women experiencing pregnancy related health problems will result in more appointments.

All appointments attract the right to paid leave.

Employers might request that appointments are requested as close as possible to the start or end of the working day but must bear in mind that it is not always possible to rearrange scheduled hospital appointments.

Consider instead offering flexibility: if the hospital is close to home but not work, why not suggest homeworking on days with appointments to reduce time lost to travel?

Fathers are now entitled to unpaid leave to attend up to 2 antenatal appointments, taking up to 6 ½ hours on each occasion.

Birth of a child

All mothers are entitled to up to 12 months maternity leave, no matter how long they have been with the employer. The first 2 weeks post birth are compulsory maternity leave. After that, a woman can give up her right to maternity leave and instead take Shared Parental Leave, sharing the leave with the baby’s father.

Fathers employed for 26 weeks, 15 weeks before the due date, and who are still employed when leave is to be taken are entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave and to take Shared Parental Leave if the mother has curtailed her right to maternity leave.

Parents sharing leave can either take the leave at the same time as each other, in sequence or in combination. Leave can be requested in non-continuous blocks, but an employer has the right to refuse non-continuous leave.

Adopting parents are entitled to broadly similar leave, with the principal adopter given similar rights as maternity leave and both parents able to take Shared Parental Leave subject to eligibility.

Flexible working

All employees with at least 26 weeks service can request flexible working.

Whilst there is no longer a need for a particular reason for the request, they are still most commonly sought to allow parents to work around childcare needs.

Employers must deal with requests reasonably and can only refuse them for a sound business reason, for example:

  • Burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Detrimental impact on performance
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes

It is important to consider requests properly and explore how the employee’s proposal will work in practice.

Flexible working requests refused on “incorrect facts” can result in an Employment Tribunal claim.

Quite apart from the legal right, employers should bear in mind that allowing flexible working is likely to assist with retention of key staff.

Parental leave

Parents with at least one year’s service are entitled to take up to 18 weeks unpaid Parental Leave (per child) at any time before the child’s 18th birthday.

Under the default scheme, parents cannot take more than 4 weeks in each year and employers have the right to postpone the leave requested (unless it immediately follows birth or adoption). Leave must be taken in multiples of a week and employees should give at least 21 days’ notice.

Time off for emergencies

Employees have the right to unpaid leave when a dependant falls ill, arrangements for care are disrupted or to deal with an unexpected incident at a child’s school.

While often referred to as time off for emergencies this also covers the situation where a parent knows that childcare will be disrupted but is otherwise unable to find cover.

While not strictly necessary, many employers allow employees to take short notice holiday in these situations in order that they do not lose pay.

If you need help and advice regarding working parents, please do not hesitate to contact me on 0113 350 4030 or at emma.roberts@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide. Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
Latest posts by Emma Roberts (see all)
Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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