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Back to school – do you know what an employee's rights are?

Back to School

As the children head back to school, many for the first time, working parents will have to juggle their work and family commitments, sometimes causing headaches for employers.

The TUC this week released a statement calling on employers to be supportive of working mums and dads to allow them to work flexibly to help manage their childcare during the staggered primary school intake period. 

So, what flexible working rights do employees have?

Emplaw online contributor barrister Lucy Boyle, highlights the key points:

  • The right to request flexible working is now available to all employees with 26 weeks of service.
  • Until last year it was only available to parents of children under the age of 17 (or 18 for disabled children) and certain carers.
  • Employers have a duty to consider all requests in a “reasonable manner”.
  • An ACAS Code of Practice sets out minimum standards that employers have to meet when considering a request. 

What rights to time off do parents and carers of school age children have?


An employee may of course take holiday, subject to any terms of their employment which require them to agree the time with their employer. In addition leave for dependants or parental leave may be appropriate

Leave for dependants

This is sometimes known as time off for family emergencies.

All employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a dependant (Employment Rights Act 1996 s.57A) and not to be dismissed or subjected to a detriment for doing so.

Time off can be taken "in order to take action which is necessary:-

  1. to provide assistance on an occasion when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted,
  2.  to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured,
  3. in consequence of the death of a dependant,
  4. because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant, or
  5. to deal with an incident which involves a child of the employee and which occurs unexpectedly in a period during which an educational establishment which the child attends is responsible for him".

The statute makes no provision as to how much time off will be "reasonable" but guidance on  includes the following example:

If your child falls ill you could take time off to go to the doctor and 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 is no legal right to be paid; however some employers offer a contractual right to pay under the terms and conditions of employment.

Parental leave

This right is provided by section 76 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (‘ERA 1996’) and the key points are:

  • Unpaid parental leave is available to employees with one year’s period of service.
  • Parental leave is not to be confused with shared parental leave and pay.
  • From 5th April 2015, parental leave can be taken in respect of children up to 18 years old.
  • 18 weeks of parental leave is available in total.
  • Employees cannot take more than four weeks of leave a year, unless their employer agrees otherwise
  • Parental leave is a very underused right

Further Information

The Acas Code on handling requests to work flexibly plus other guidance are found at

For more comprehensive information about family friendly rights and flexible working please see our detailed guides under the topics Maternity and Parental Rights, Flexible Working and Working, Time, Holidays and Time Off. If you are not currently a subscriber to Emplaw Online, please enquiriesatemplaw [dot] co [dot] uk (subject: Emplaw%20trial) (email us)

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