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Parental rights and flexible working


Many employers now recognise that family friendly provisions and flexible working can actually make good business sense and help with employee retention. Certain employees have a legal right to request a more flexible way of working and as such, their employer has a legal obligation to seriously consider their request.

Alongside this legal duty, many employers also appreciate the positive impact such provisions can have on the commitment, contentment and productivity of their team.

Here’s a quick guide to what it involves, who can benefit and what the law states.

What is parental leave?

Parental leave entitles qualifying parents to take unpaid time off to help care for their children.  This could simply be to spend more time with a young child, or could be to support a child during a hospital stay, for example. Normally, employees should be able to take parental leave immediately after maternity, paternity or adoption leave providing they give you the required notice.

Up until a child’s fifth birthday, each parent can take up to 13 weeks of parental leave. This applies for each one of the children if an employee has several.

If the child receives disability allowance, each parent has the right to take up to 18 weeks of parental leave until the child’s 18th birthday.

If a child is adopted, each parent can take up to 13 weeks of parental leave up until the fifth anniversary of the placement of the child into the family, or until their 18th birthday, whichever is first.

Typically, parental leave is unpaid but some employers may choose to offer it paid as an extra incentive and benefit of working for their company.

Who can request it?

Parental leave is typically available to an employee if they’ve done one year of continuous service with you, and if their child is under five years of age (18 if the child’s disabled).

Contractors, agency workers and self-employed workers are not eligible for parental leave. To find out more about types of employment status and the basic rights for each, click here.

Foster parents are typically not entitled to parental leave, but, as an employer - you may choose to offer flexible working options to them.

The usual process often requires that a birth certificate or adoption certificate is provided by the employee in question. If the employee doesn’t live with their children, proof of legal parental responsibility will be required before they can qualify for the leave.

What is flexible working?

This is the term used to describe a working pattern that’s modified with an employee’s personal needs in mind. This could be in the form of ‘flexi-time’ working which allows more choice regarding the hours worked; ‘compressed hours’ which allows the employee to work the agreed hours over fewer days or ‘annualised hours’ which allows more flexibility throughout the course of a year.

Other types of flexible working can include: working from home, job sharing, part-time hours or staggered hours (i.e. adjusting the start and finish times). There may be other arrangements that an employer and employee come to that don’t fit into a specific category but suit their particular circumstances. Many employees now look for these ‘lifestyle benefits’ when considering a job move.

Who can request it?

Any employee can ask their employer for flexible working, but there are legal guidelines in place which provide some employees with the statutory right to request flexible working.

The law states that they must be an employee (rather than an agency worker, for example) and must have worked at the organisation for at least 26 weeks continuously.

If these things apply, an employee could ask you for flexible working if:

  • They have parental responsibility for a child under 17 (18 for a disabled child)
  • They are the parent/guardian/special guardian/foster parent/private foster carer or the holder of a residence order - or the spouse, partner or civil partner of one of these and are applying to care for the child.
  • They are the designated carer for someone who lives at the same address.
  • They haven’t made another application to work flexibly in the last year.

Business Link provides some detailed information on flexible working – the law and best practice.

Remember, even if an employee doesn’t fit the criteria listed here –they can still ask you to consider flexible working options. Every employer is different and some employers will be more open to such requests than others.

Please see the government advice on who can request flexible working and parental leave for more information.