Options for working parents if your child is sick

One of the most common questions posed during our workshops for returning parents is what to do when your baby or child is ill.  If your baby is just starting nursery or mixing with other children at a childminder’s house, it is more likely they are prone to picking up bugs.  It’s good to be prepared and know what your options are.  Firstly, consult your company’s maternity/parental policy in case the internal guidelines are different from the statutory entitlements below.  Secondly, always chat with your manager in the first instance – the 2 options below are the formal, unpaid options, and in many situations, managers are happy to be flexible:

Parental Leave

  • If you have completed 1 year’s service, you are entitled to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave for each child, up until their 18th birthday (this has recently increased from their 5th birthday)
  • For each child who qualifies for Disability Living Allowance, 18 weeks up until the child’s 18th birthday can be taken
  • This leave does not have to be taken solely to look after a sick child – it could also be used simply to spend more time with your children – for example if you need to settle them into a new school, visit grandparents or deal with family-related matters
  • There is a limit of 4 weeks per year that can be taken and the time must be taken in blocks of weeks, not days, unless your child is disabled or if your employer agrees otherwise
  • If you work part-time – say 3 days a week – one ‘week’ of parental leave would be 3 days
  • You must give 21 days’ notice before your intended start-date. This doesn’t have to be in writing, unless the employer requests it

Emergency Dependant’s Leave

  • As an employee you are allowed time off to deal with an emergency involving ‘a dependant’.  This is not just limited to your children, you could also take time off to help a partner or relative, or someone who depends on your care
  • You are allowed ‘a reasonable amount of time off’ to deal with the emergency, but there’s not set amount of time as it depends on the situation
    • Example: if your child falls ill, you could take time off to go to the doctors/hospital and to make care arrangements.  Your employer may then ask you to take annual leave or parental leave if you want to look after your child for longer
  • There are no limits as to how many times you take this emergency leave
  • Your employer may pay you for time off but they don’t have to
  • You can’t take Emergency Dependant’s Leave if you knew about the situation beforehand – for example a pre-booked hospital appointment
  • Examples of Emergency Dependant’s Leave:
    • If your nanny or carer doesn’t turn up or is ill
    • Your nursery closes unexpectedly
    • If your child is involved in an incident during school time
  • Tell your employer as soon as possible if you need time off. You don’t have to do this in writing
  • Your employer is not allowed to treat you unfairly for taking this time off, or refuse you reasonable time off. If this does happen, speak to HR for advice

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