September.  The month of back to school.  For lots of parents, a time for new beginnings.  Perhaps even the opportunity to return to work after being at home whilst the kids were little, or to increase their working hours.  For a while all is well.  The perfect balance between work and ‘life’ has been struck.  Then the juggling act becomes a little trickier for the parents and the boundaries start to be pushed at work:

“My son’s got his first class assembly on Friday morning.  Is it OK if I come in a bit late on that day?”. 

“My daughter was up all night being sick, so I can’t send her to school for 48 hours.  I’ve run out of holiday, so can I work from home?”. 

“My partner’s ill and it’s half-term.  I need to book some last-minute holiday to look after the kids”. 

These are common scenarios that face employees and employers alike and can be stressful for both parties in equal measure.  Employees are torn between their parental and work responsibilities and employers must be seen as being compassionate to working parents, whilst managing their entire workforce equally.  For an SME, it can be even more of a struggle, as the smaller the team, the greater the impact of employees taking ad hoc time out of the business.

Lots of SME Owners /Directors think that you can’t turn down any of the time off that parents /guardians ask for when it relates to their dependants.  Well actually, you can under certain circumstances (depending on how much time they need off, how much time they’ve had off in the past, the effect of the time off on your business).  However, to prevent claims of discrimination and in the spirit of positive employee relations, you must make sure that ad hoc time off is managed consistently across the organisation, irrespective of an individual’s personal circumstances.

The first essential tool for managing any time off from work is a Time-off policy.  This sets out your stall around time off as holiday or special leave including:

  • Compassionate Leave – to support employees when a family member has a serious illness or has died. There is no legal entitlement to time off for compassionate leave.
  • Time off for emergencies involving dependants – to deal with an unplanned emergency involving a partner, parent or someone that the employee has legal responsibility for (e.g. a child suddenly falling ill). All employees are entitled to reasonable time off to care for dependants.
  • Time off for domestic emergencies – to deal with an unplanned emergency at home (e.g. a burst pipe). There’s no legal entitlement to time off for domestic emergencies.
  • Time off for court appearances – if an employee needs to attend court. Time should be given, but may be paid or unpaid at your discretion, or you may ask an individual to take the time from their holiday entitlement.
  • Time off for public services – e.g. if an employee works as a school governor etc.. Employees are entitled to reasonable time off for public duties.
  • Time off for jury service – for employees who are called up for jury service. If an employer doesn’t want to /can’t release an employee for jury service, they may ask them to postpone it, but they will still have to do it at a later date.

Your Time-off policy should specify whether each type of special leave will be paid or unpaid and the maximum amount that an employee can take each year.

With the types of special leave that you could offer in mind, let’s look at the scenarios outlined above and how you might handle them.

“My son’s got his first class assembly on Friday morning. Is it OK if I come in a bit late on that day?

Make it clear what’s acceptable and what’s not around coming in late (pre-agreed lateness as opposed to just being late to work) by including it in your Time-off policy.  Consider the size of your business and the impact of occasionally allowing this kind of time off versus poor employee engagement if you don’t allow it at all.  This scenario doesn’t fall under ‘Reasonable time off to care for dependants’, so, depending on how much time they’ve had off previously or the impact on the business, you may turn the request down.If you are going to allow it, make it clear in your Time-off policy that each employee will be able to come in late, if agreed beforehand, up to X times per year, either with the time made up, or not, applied consistently.  Alternatively, if an individual regularly needs to come into work later than their contracted started time, and they have more than 26 weeks’ service, they may be better requesting a permanent change to their working hours through the organisation’s flexible working process.

My daughter was up all night being sick, so I can’t send her to school for 48 hours. I’ve run out of holiday so can I work from home?”

As we’ve said, all employees are entitled to reasonable time off to care for dependants, so set out in your Time-off policy how you will manage this.  Many employers offer up to five days’ special leave per leave year (pro-rated for part-time employees), specifying that time off for compassionate leave, for domestic emergencies involving dependants or to attend Court (where employees have no remaining holiday) will normally be given as single, non-consecutive days.  Special leave can either be paid or unpaid at your discretion.  In this scenario, therefore, if home-working wasn’t feasible, the individual should take the first day as special leave, but must make alternative arrangements for their daughter’s care for the second day.If you do allow home-working, again, set out either in your Time-off or Homeworking policies when people can and can’t do this.  However, be careful not to treat parents needing to work from home occasionally to care for a sick child any differently to other employees needing to work from home now and again for their own individual reason.

“My wife’s ill and it’s half-term.  I need to book some last-minute time off to look after the kids”

Specify in your Time-off policy what notice period you’ll accept for holiday requests and what will happen if sufficient notice isn’t given.  If your organisation can’t sustain this individual taking the whole week off (perhaps as it will leave you unacceptably understaffed), they may need to take one day off as special leave (time off for emergencies involving dependants) to arrange alternative childcare for the rest of the week.  Once the individual is back at work, perhaps in your next 121, ask them to think about a back-up-plan for childcare in case a similar situation arises again.Another must-have tool for managing time off consistently is a way of recording all of the time off that people have taken.  This may be through a simple spreadsheet, but can be more accurately measured and monitored for trends (i.e. regular unplanned time off on a Monday /Friday, categories of absence and Bradford Factor analysis) through SharePoint Absenteeism Management software. If you identify trends in the time off that people are taking, make sure that you handle the situation promptly using attendance targets and your disciplinary process where necessary.

If you would like to know more about how SharePoint and Office 365 can be used to support your HR team in the management of Time-Off, including Absence Management and Holiday Management please contact the team on 0114 321 6104.