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Family Commitments and Your Working Rights

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 3 Jun 2014 | comments*Discuss
Employer Employee Government Maternity

The situation for workers with commitments at home is a lot better now than it was a few decades ago. Prompted, to a large extent, by European legislation, there have been improvements in the minimum levels set for working hours and holidays, and the introduction of parental and paternal leave. There are also support mechanisms for workers who have to take time off to care for dependents and perhaps even have to give up work.

Paternity Leave

Paternity leave has been brought in to complement Maternity Leave, which has been instigated for many years now in the United Kingdom. Up to 39 weeks maternity leave is allowed and paternity leave gives the non-child bearing partner some paid leave so that they can be there to support during the early months, too.

How much paternity leave is due, and how much will be paid, is a complicated formula, but the government has an interactive tool on their www.direct.gov.uk website. This tool also presents a calendar to allow parents to plan their leave, as there are statutory notice periods, some fairly long, which the parents need to give to their employers in order to qualify.

Parental Leave

Parental leave gives a total of 13 weeks off for parents at any point until a child is five years old. It is not really related to maternity or paternity leave, which is for the birth and the period immediately afterward, but for points in a child's early years where illness or other difficulties might make extended leave, to care for the child, necessary. Regulations do not stipulate that paternal leave is paid though, it merely puts the onus on an employer to allow it to be taken and keep the job open during the time taken.

Other Important Changes

Family commitment laws have seen further changes in recent years to remove some of the inequities in the system. Adoptive parents now get similar rights to birth parents, with one parent being able to take up to 52 weeks leave off from the date of the arrival of an adopted child, as long as the child is under 5 years old.

Compassionate leave is the usual term for time taken off to cope with problems at home, such as a death in the family. This is voluntary as far as the employer is concerned but most will have a formal or informal policy on the matter. There is another statutory right that employers cannot refuse you, known as 'time off for dependants', which allows for employees to take 'reasonable' time off, unpaid, to deal with emergencies at home. It must concern a dependant who is directly related though, a partner, child or parent, or someone living with you as a family member.

Flexible Working

Although any employee can ask their employer if they can change their hours to suit their family situation, the employer does not have to agree to the request. However, they must give it serious consideration.

There are many different options for Flexible Working, shift work, working shorter hours in school holidays and longer hours during term-time, job share arrangements and home working are just a few of the options.

You have a right to ask for flexible working if you are a parent and have a child under the age of 17 or a disabled child under the age of 18, but you must be responsible for the child on a day-to-day basis. You also have the right to apply for flexible working if you are caring for an adult. The adult must either be your spouse, civil partner, partner, relative (sibling, mother, father, grandfather, grandmother) or someone that is not a relative but is living at the same address as you. To ask for the right for flexible working you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks.

It's worth pointing out that many of these benefits are only open to employees. There is a distinction between employees, workers and people who are self-employed and if you are unsure as to which category you fit into, there is guidance on the www.direct.gov.uk website to help you decide.

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My daughter returned to work after her son was born. Tesco she had worked for . for over 14 years. She was full time, now she is only able to get 10 hrs a week. They gave her stupid hours, starting at 5AM two mornings per week. She was breast feeding, but they said she had to go back on those hours. She couldn't go back to her full time job[she didn't really want to] as her job wasn't there any more. Now she is asking for a change to her hours so she can take her son to nursery, and to change hours for her families sake. Tesco are not budging, she HAS to go back on those hours. They refuse to do flexi work. They are NOT helping her at all. Where does she stand? What can she do? Thank you.
gwyn - 3-Jun-14 @ 10:20 AM
I want to apply for a fixed term contract job (the contract is for 6 months). If I do accept the job but end up wanting to leave for some reason before the 6 months are up, is this allowed? What kind of rights do I have with ending the contract/handing in notice?
TM - 2-Jul-12 @ 8:00 PM
I am now going to leave as it is not fair on my children as they do not see me for 3 days a week so I am leaving to spend more time at home but I will be looking for a full time day job
morticia - 8-Apr-12 @ 6:05 PM
I have asked my employers to change my hours more times than I can remember but they won't but they have changed other peoples. They changed my hours when I started college and then when I got attacked they changed them but I had no choice and the hours now don't enable me to see my kids for 3 days but they say I choose them but they gave me 3 options of which none of them were suitable for my children early in the morning or 4 till 10 3 days a week or 5 till 10 2 days and all day saturday neither of these were really viable for me I need days but they won't even though they have given other people days
morticia - 8-Apr-12 @ 6:02 PM
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