School Holidays and Parental Absence

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Balancing the needs of the business with employee time off can be difficult at any time of the year but the summer months present an extra headache.

The school holidays can create extra challenges but here are some tips on how you can manage employee rights in your best interests during this time.

Annual Leave during School Holidays

All of your employees are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave per year.

Parents are not entitled to special treatment through the school holidays so, if you have a first come first served system for authorising leave, tell all employees you will stick to that and if they don’t get their request in, they cannot expect the time off. If problems arise, see if the employees themselves can discuss a compromise.

However, emergency situations may still occur meaning some flexibility is required. If you are able to agree a short notice period of annual leave, this reduces the employee’s remaining leave entitlement.

Time off For Dependants

The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work in emergency situations involving a dependant. This includes where existing care arrangements break down and the employee needs some time to make new arrangements e.g. the child’s grandparent normally looks after them in the school holidays but suddenly falls ill. Time off in this way is a statutory right and so cannot be refused but also cannot be booked in advance; it is to deal with unforeseen circumstances. It is also unpaid.

The purpose of time off for dependants is to take action in consequence of an event; it is not to be taken to actually look after the child so if an employee looks to take more than two days, you should be discussing with them other options for how the time off will be designated.

It is unlawful to dismiss someone or subject them to detriment because they have taken time off for dependants, however, in order for this protection to apply, the law states that the employee must inform you as soon as possible that they need to take time off for dependants and also how long they expect their absence to last. In Ellis v Ratcliff Palfinger, an employee claimed he had been dismissed for taking time off for dependants; the Employment Tribunal found that when he took the time off, he had not informed his employer as required, and therefore the protection did not apply and he had been fairly dismissed.

Parental Leave

If the employee is unwilling to take annual leave, or has no annual leave left, to cover time off for childcare in the school holidays, you could suggest that they take parental leave. This again is unpaid and can only be taken in blocks of one week but can provide a solution. Unless you have your own rules on parental leave, an employee can take a maximum of 4 weeks each year, and a maximum of 18 weeks until their child is 18.


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