School Holidays and Parental Absence

The school holidays are a parental absence nightmare for employees and businesses alike.
With everyone clambering for time off all at once, it can be difficult to know who has most rights and exactly how the holidays should be managed. On top of all that, you also need to keep your business running.
Don’t panic – we’re here to help with this question and answer blog that will help you balance everyone’s holiday needs and meet your employment law obligations.

I’ve Got Too Many Leave Requests – Can I Refuse Any?

Yes, you can. Although employees have the right to statutory annual leave, employers can say when leave can or cannot be taken, even for parental absence.
Some organisations operate shutdown periods when staff must use their holiday, often at Christmas or during slow periods, whereas other firms stop people taking leave during busy times.
Refusing a holiday request can cause disagreements with employees and has the potential to impact morale and engagement if not handled properly.
That’s why it’s important to ensure your contracts clearly include planned closures or times when employees cannot take time off. Your holiday policy should also set out any other rules governing holiday. For example, some organisations do not allow two people on the same team to be off at the same time.  
Timely communications will also remind employees to book leave in advance or retain enough holidays to cover any shutdowns or busy holiday months. This will help staff plan their lives while also taking into consideration the needs of the business.

Should I Give Parental Absence First Choice Over Holiday Dates During School Breaks?

There’s no legal obligation to do so and should you give preference to parents over non-parents you could face claims of discrimination.
To avoid this issue, many businesses have a neutral holiday policy that states leave will be granted on a first-come first-served basis.
This approach tends to work best for everyone as managers and employees can plan in advance. That inevitably means parents need to think about summer holiday childcare well in advance so they can get their requests in early.

Is Flexible Working An Option During School Holidays?

Flexible working allows people to work from home and/or work more flexible hours. Some parental absence may request flexible working to cover a specific period, like the summer holidays.
However, a flexible working request cannot be granted for a specific period: if you agree to the request (and there’s no legal reason that you have to), flexible working forms a permanent part of the employee’s terms and conditions.
Other arrangements, like a temporary change to working patterns, can be negotiated between the employer and the employee. For example, unpaid leave cold be granted if holiday has been used up or you could agree to a reduction in hours for a certain period of time.
Do I have to Give Parents Time Off to Spend With Their Dependents?
This is a tricky one and the answer is that it depends.
In general no, you don’t have to give parents time off to spend with their dependents. However, if there is an emergency, such as a parent’s childminding arrangements breaking down, they have a legal right to ‘reasonable time off for dependents’ to deal with the situation.
Some roles afford employers the opportunity to grant the option for a parent to work from home. While there is no legal requirement to do this, it’s a good way of keeping work progressing and your employee happy.
If this isn’t an option, you are legally required to give your employee unpaid leave. Normally this would be at least one or two days or whatever length of time is considered reasonable given the circumstances.
Alternatively, you can allow an employee to take paid holiday. This is particularly useful if the employee has accrued a large amount of leave that they need to use up.

Can Someone Take Parental Absence for Three Weeks?

If two parents need to cover half the summer vacation each, you may receive a request for three weeks leave.
This is perfectly legal as long as you’re happy to agree to the request. Some companies stipulate that no more than two weeks’ holiday can be taken at any one time except in unusual circumstances, like someone going on honeymoon.
If you want to limit holiday periods to a certain duration, you could see if it’s possible for the employee to split their leave so it does not exceed two weeks at any one time.
As with any holiday request, you are within your rights to refuse it.
There are many ways to deal with holiday requests at busy times of the year. Whichever options you take, try to be fair and consistent in your approach and stick to the guidance set out in your holiday policy.

Not got a holiday policy in place? Or got a tricky holiday situation on your hands? Then get in touch with Tercus HR today.