When it comes to children and animals…

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Boy, girl and a dog

It can pay to be a family friendly employer, say the HR experts at Croner.

Balancing care of children and animals with a full-time job can be difficult for anyone to manage. It can certainly have a significant impact on employees’ productivity and performance.

So understanding these needs can help develop a strong, loyal working relationship. Indeed, it can mean the difference between valued staff staying or leaving.

Business owners should be aware of potential options for their employees, and be prepared to offer further support if need be. By taking this action, employers can aim to balance out the needs of their employees with the requirements of a working day.

ANNUAL LEAVE

Every summer, employers see increased requests for annual leave from parents wishing to spend time with their children during the school holidays. While employees with horses may want time off work to enjoy them, especially if they’ve invested in training and competition entries.

Legally, it’s at an employer’s discretion when their employees take annual leave – and they do not need to prioritise working parents or animal owners over their colleagues.

In these situations, it’s best to implement a ‘first come, first served’ rule that allows all employees the chance to request annual leave for the same period. This gives employees with young families or animal caring commitments as much chance as anyone else to get their requests in early.

FLEXIBLE WORKING HOURS

Employers may also consider allowing employees to change their hours to better balance commitments outside work. Flexible working arrangements make allowances for working hours outside the pre-agreed times with employees such as variations in hours worked, compressing the working day or enabling working from home.

Flexible working can be a useful way of mitigating holiday requests for the same dates, with employees able to use this increased level of flexibility for their outside commitments without needing to take any additional time away from work.

“Flexible working can be a useful way of mitigating holiday requests.”

Remember that, while employers do not have to allow their staff to do this, all employees can apply for flexible working if they have worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks.

PARENTAL LEAVE

If an employee has worked for a company for over a year, they are entitled to take a period of unpaid parental leave to look after a child under the age of 18. But they must give their employer 21 days’ notice.

Generally, employees can take up to four weeks of parental leave per year in one-week blocks, although employers do have flexibility to adopt a parental leave policy that works for them and their business provided the minimum requirements are met. For example, employees may be permitted to group four weeks together during the summer period in order to better facilitate childcare.

While employers have to permit parental leave to be taken and can only postpone it by up to six months if they feel the business will be unduly disrupted, this time is not meant for use in caring for animals. If employees do request time off to look after an animal, permitting this would be at the employer’s discretion.

‘TIME OFF FOR DEPENDANTS’

Employers may wonder if they need to permit staff to take time off if their children or animals fall sick. Legally, all employees reserve the right to take ‘time off for dependants’ from the first day of their employment. This provides them a ‘reasonable’ amount of time away from work to deal with emergencies that involve a ‘dependant’, which can include an unexpected illness. Crucially, this time cannot be taken for something that the employee previously knew about, such as a hospital appointment.

In law, dependants are clearly defined as spouses, children or someone who depends upon the employee for care. Specifically, it does not include an animal.

If an employee is faced with an unexpected situation where an animal does need emergency care, it will be again be down to the employer if they choose to allow them to take time off to facilitate this.

• For further advice, call Croner on 0844 561 8133.

ETN|Legal Digest – November 2019