by Peninsula Group Operations Director and HR expert Alan Price
It’s that time of year again, the school summer holidays are officially upon us - which means six long weeks of fun in the sun for children across the UK and potential headaches for HR departments.
However, this can often be a stressful time for working parents, faced with juggling job and childcare commitments. This in turn means HR departments will need to be on the ball when it comes to managing teams.
Given that children will not be at school for a large part of the working day parents may want time away from work to look after them. Individuals often believe the statutory right to time off for dependants (TOD) entitles them to unpaid time off to spend with their child in this situation, however, this is not the case.
While a schoolchild will fall under the bracket of a “dependant", this right is reserved for times when emergency care is necessary, such as if the child experiences sudden ill health, and won’t apply in these circumstances.
HR personnel need to be firm with this and be prepared to explain the entitlement to staff in full where necessary.
Instead, staff wanting time off to spend with their child during the summer may opt for annual leave and should follow the company’s normal rules when it comes to requesting time off.
Problems may occur when employers receive multiple requests for time off at the same time, especially if they are from individuals who work in the same team.
In this situation, the HR staff will need to discuss the matter with the employees’ line manager to see if it is possible to approve both requests.
If not, then it may be best for HR departments to take a ‘first come first served approach’ to approving holidays in order to be fair. Aside from this, staff could be given the chance to come up with an alternative arrangement for time off between themselves.
Flexible working is another alternative to accommodate working parents during the school holidays, as all employees with 26 weeks’ service will have the right to request a change in working arrangements.
Parents could use this to reduce their overall hours or ask to work from home for a temporary period during the summer.
HR departments should be prepared for these requests and have a process in place for handling them. Keep in mind that there is a legal duty to consider all requests so these shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
Instead, employers need to consider if these are feasible and only refuse requests if there are clear business grounds to do so. If requests are granted, then line managers may need to re-distribute work responsibilities to accommodate for a reduction in hours or remind individuals that they will still be expected to complete tasks on time when working from home.
In some cases, employees may even request the possibility of bringing their children into work with them for a period during the summer holidays, which is likely to cause concern for those working in HR.
Having a child on the premises could present significant health and safety issues, whilst also creating an added distraction for the employee themselves if they are having to take time out of their day to check on their child. Therefore, there is no requirement for HR departments to accept requests of this nature.
Ultimately, those working in HR will need to find an effective way to balance the concerns of working parents during the summer while still making sure the business can meet performance targets.
Ultimately, HR personnel have to put the right provisions are in place and maintain a clear and open dialogue with staff during this time.
A leading authority on employment law and HR, Alan Price is CEO of BrightHR and Group Operations Director of Peninsula. Alan is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD with 18 years’ experience in employee relations, a Chartered Manager and Fellow of the CMI among others.