Parental leave to cover for carer: weekly dilemma

Q One of our employees has requested parental leave as her carer has become unavailable. This is extremely inconvenient, what is our position?

A There are two statutory rights that an employee may be able to rely on in situations such as this and it is important to clarify the distinction between the two.

Employees can take up to 13 weeks’ parental leave for each child in blocks of up to four weeks per year. Under the statutory provisions, an employee must give their employer at least 21 days notice of their intention to take parental leave.

An employer can postpone an employee’s request for leave for up to six months where it considers that the operation of the business would be unduly disrupted. Justifiable reasons for postponement include where work is seasonal, where a replacement cannot be found quickly, or where a specific function is of strategic importance. So it may be justifiable to postpone the leave during a peak period, or where the individual is working on a time-critical project.

But an employee may be entitled to bring a complaint to the employment tribunal if they are prevented from taking parental leave or if parental leave is unreasonably postponed.

The second statutory right that an employee may exercise in a situation such as this is the right to take time off for dependants. Employees have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with a disruption to their caring arrangements. They can take time off to make alternative arrangements where there has been a breakdown in care arrangements, for example if a childminder is unwell.

This right is often referred to as time off for a ‘domestic emergency’ however there is no requirement for the situation to be an emergency in order for the statutory right to apply. All that is required is for the situation to be “unexpected”. If an employee knows in advance that his/her caring arrangements have broken down, but remains unable to make alternative arrangements they could still qualify for this statutory right.

In the situation given, if this employee wants to take time off to care for their child, then it would be appropriate for their request to be made under the parental leave provisions, with 21 days notice. The leave can be postponed if reasonable to do so, but cannot be refused altogether.

Emily Darwin, solicitor, Rickerbys

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