From shared parental leave to working from home, Kirsty Ayre, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell, looks at five things employers need to know about family friendly working …
1. New parents can share up to 50 weeks’ leave between them
It’s not just women who can take up to 12 months off when they have a baby. Shared parental leave (ShPL) enables eligible parents to take time off together to care for their child or transfer leave to their partner during the child’s first year.
ShPL can be taken in blocks separated by periods of work or be taken all in one go. Parents can also choose to be off work together or stagger leave (and pay).
To qualify for ShPL, the mother must have been continually employed for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the week in which the baby is due and her partner must also have been working for 26 weeks (although not necessarily in a row). The rules are very complicated, but in brief the mother has to ‘opt in’ and give notice that they want to convert some of their maternity leave to ShPL. In some circumstances a mother can also transfer some of her statutory maternity pay to her partner.
2. Parents don’t have the right to work part time
All employees have the right to make a formal request to work flexibly (including part time) provided they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks. They don’t have to prove that they have parental or other caring responsibilities and can apply for any reason, even if it is linked to their personal preferences, such as to have a better work/life balance.
The right is to ask for a different working pattern, NOT to obtain it. Requests can be refused on one or more of the eight grounds set out in the legislation (sections 80F-80l of the Employment Rights Act 1996).
If you focus on the impact of the proposed arrangements, you will not go far wrong. Remember if you can’t accommodate the specific request made but could do so if some additional changes were made, suggest these to the employee. You can also suggest a trial period to see if the new arrangements work out.
Businesses can have problems if they receive several competing requests to work flexibly and you may be asked to prioritise those with caring responsibilities. In many cases you don’t have to prioritise those with caring responsibilities, although you need to be aware of the risk of discrimination claims. If a disabled member of staff asks you to adjust their hours as a reasonable adjustment, you should give this serious consideration.
3. Working from home
- If your staff are allowed to work from home, their contracts should set out any limitations that apply and the fact that they may be asked to attend meetings etc in the office or at other locations. In addition, their contracts should set out any core hours that they are required to work and make it clear that they are responsible for making sure they take adequate rest breaks as required under the Working Time Regulations 1998 and work in an environment that is free from distractions. It is quite common to see provisions included where the employee agrees that they will not work from home if they are also responsible for looking after children or elderly relatives.
- You may also have to consider what expenses are payable. For example, will you pick up a proportion of the utility bills?
4. Health and safety risk assessments
- Employers are responsible for an employee’s welfare, health and safety, “so far as is reasonably practicable”. You must therefore carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all the work activities carried out by your staff, including homeworkers, those who hot desk or work from a variety of locations to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk they face in respect of their physical working environment, the equipment they use and mental risks. If you identify risks, you must take appropriate measures to minimise these.
5. Time off to deal with an emergency
- Employees have a right to take unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (a child, partner or anyone else who depends on them). This right is limited to:
- providing assistance and making arrangements for their dependant to be cared for if they fall ill, give birth, are injured or assaulted or previous arrangements have broken down;
- dealing with the consequences of their death, or .
- dealing with an unexpected incident which involves their child during school hours.
- An employee only has a statutory right to take time off for dependants if the situation falls within one of those categories listed above.
There is no fixed amount of time off – it must be “reasonable”. What is reasonable will depend upon the nature of the emergency but will generally be no more than a day or two. This is because the right is available to help employees make arrangements to deal with the immediate crisis rather than to provide care.