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Many families find it difficult to balance work and childcare at the start of the new school year as parents often need extra time off work to help children who are starting school for the first time to settle into their new environment.

As schools may operate a staggered start for children or may require that they attend just the morning or afternoon at first, or not going in every day for the first few days or even weeks, working parents may find it difficult to fit in shifts and their usual working patterns.

By way of a summary the following options are available to working parents in this situation:

Parental leave

Parental Leave may be an opportunity for working parents (who have completed one years’ continuous service) to take time off to settle children into school.

Employees are able to take up to four weeks off during a year, per child (up to their 18th birthday), normally unpaid.

The employee must have given at least 21 days’ notice before the intended start date.

Parental leave cannot be taken as “odd” days off unless the employer agrees otherwise – it should be taken in blocks of a week or multiples of a week.

Annual leave

Employees may request annual leave to enable them to be available at the start of the new school year.

Most workers, whether part-time or full-time, are legally entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave. Additional annual leave may be agreed as part of a worker’s contract.

Some employers may be supportive of parents who are settling children into school when looking at leave requests, however, employers should be fair and consistent with all staff when giving leave requests consideration.

While employees have the right to statutory annual leave, some employers may have policies that specify how many staff can be absent at any one time or when leave can or cannot be taken, restricting staff from taking leave at certain times of the year or during busy periods.

Flexible working

An employee can make a flexible working request for a change in work pattern, to be considered by the employer, which, if agreed will make a permanent change to the terms and conditions of employment. Requests may include flexible hours, working part-time, term-time working or working the employer’s core hours.

Many employers are supportive and allow flexibility to their staff. If an employee wants a temporary change to their work pattern to help settle children into school, they may be able to negotiate an agreement with the employer on that basis. The employer should, however, ensure that they are consistent with all staff if such an agreement is reached.

Working from home

Employers may also consider allowing employees the option of homeworking as a type of flexible working.

Many staff who work from home say they have a better work-life balance, even if they only do it some of the time. Homeworking can cover a variety of arrangements, including:

  • working entirely at home apart from attending regular or occasional meeting at the workplace or with customers
  • time split between workplace and home or with customers – for example, two days in the workplace and three days at home or with customers
  • mostly in the workplace, working from home only occasionally.

Other Family-Friendly Policies

Some larger companies have introduced policies which may, for example, allow employees to take a half-day of leave when their child starts at a new school in addition to their usual holiday entitlement, giving them the opportunity to take their child to school or to pick them up.

If you have any questions or would like any further advice on the above, please call the employment law team to discuss on 0113 3229222.