There have been some recent employment tribunal cases with regards to employers, not allowing employees time off to go and deal with things such as going to pick up their child from nursery who was sick and not allowing an employee to amend their working hours.
So, we just wanted to highlight what the responsibilities are, of an employer, if your employee is asking for those things. These two areas fall under two different policies.
Emergency time off for dependents
Emergency time off for dependents means exactly what it says on the tin. For example, say your child suddenly gets sick, and you need to go home to pick them up from school to look after them – on that day, that would be classed as emergency time off. Now, statutory that is unpaid. Some employers decide to pay or allow staff to take as holiday, as it’s short notice, but it’s up to the employer if they will allow them to do that and there should be a policy in place that says so. It doesn’t mean that for the next week, the employee will therefore not be working – the clue is in the title, “emergency”.
A “dependent” could be a child, a mother or father that you’re now caring for, another relative, or somebody that you live with that maybe has a disability and needs your additional support. It doesn’t cover pets, but we’ll come on to that one in another blog.
If an employee has a dependent, employers need to ensure that if there is an emergency situation, then they allow the employee time to go and deal with that situation. But they should have a plan B. So, if their child is sick and they get sent home from school, what are they going to do with the next day. Now, in certain situations, there is only one main parent, and we understand that, but if there are two parents both parents should take the responsibility of looking after that child. It shouldn’t just fall on one or the other.
The other thing is looking at alternatives to that also, for example, there might be grandparents that maybe could help look after, or friends that maybe could help if a child becomes sick. So an employer really needs to have that conversation about a ‘Plan B’ with their employee if they are struggling, because Plan B means that they can then come to work, and they are fulfilling their contract which is what you employ them to do. Then there is also the option of flexible working.
An employee can only apply for flexible working if they’ve got 26 weeks of service. If they have 26 weeks of service, they can ask for flexible working for whatever reason. The most common reasons are
• For studying
Every organisation should have a form for an employee to complete in order to ask for this. It is important to note they must ‘ask for it’, it is not a given right that this flexible working will be agreed.
The process is that the employee will ask for flexible working, and so the employer must legally respond to say that they’ve received the application and organise a meeting with that employee to understand what they’re really looking for. Although the application form should give lots of information on it, the meeting is to air any reservations or concerns, as a manager or as an owner as to how that could affect your business. So it is a good idea to really get that good understanding and a feel of what they’re asking.
As an example, if your business is open Monday to Sunday and an employee only wants to work Monday to Friday and not Saturdays and Sundays, you would want to know their reason for doing that. Employers also need to be careful if there are any religious reasons for wanting to do that as well. Once a meeting is arranged it would be important to dig a little deeper and ask if there is any flexibility on the request. That way, as a business, you make an informed business decision, and you look to see whether you can accommodate the request.
There are five legal reasons as to why you can refuse a request and you have to be able to provide evidence. You can put in a trial period as well to see whether it works, for example you could try the flexible working for three months and review it every month to see how it’s going, and then decide if it is working for the business or not, and you could then choose one of the five reasons if not.
It is wise to be mindful that if a flexible working request is outright refused, you could be losing a really good member of the team, or you could also create a bad reputation within your industry or organisation for not allowing flexible working. However, it shouldn’t be that the employee has all of the control here, you as an employer need to have control. If they are looking to work Monday to Friday and not Saturdays and Sundays, and there’s no real reason ( e.g. it’s just because of childcare or that they’re doing a course), our suggestion would be that you then look to compromise. For example, you could say you’re happy to agree to Monday to Friday, but every month the employee works one Saturday or Sunday, so there is still some weekend working. Wherever you work, it might be different at the weekends than it is during the week, and for training purposes and making sure that skill sets are kept up, that’s a really good way of doing it.
This compromise also means that other members of staff don’t have to do more weekends to cover which then might cause problems within the rest of the organisation and then you might get more flexible working requests.
So, it is important to make sure that when somebody asks for a flexible working request, you take it seriously and actually look at the business and whether you can accommodate that. If you are flexible with your employees, they are more likely to be flexible with you.
Make sure you take these requests seriously as you don’t want to end up having to pay out £184,000 or even £13,000 like these two employers did:
- Estate agent on £120k-a-year who was not allowed to work a four-day week and leave early to pick up her daughter from nursery
- Trainee accountant wins £13,000 after being sacked for leaving work to pick up her sick child
If you want to have a chat about any of the above information, then why not book a 15 minute call with either Kate or Hannah.