Case study: Time off for family emergencies; where does the employer stand?

Debbie-Haskell-150x150Employees can be tricky bag sometimes and dream staff can quickly become your business nightmare. Take time off for family emergencies as an example; Derek* contacted us when one of his newer members of staff started to request time off as his partner was seriously ill.

Being a small businessman, Derek had naturally given his employee the time off without many questions. When he contacted us with an innocuous query on another matter, he mentioned the employee as an aside, raising a common concern by many employers as to what sort of questions can be asked of an employee.
Our legal team promptly advised him of his rights and explained that an employer is entitled to ask suitable questions to establish whether the situation was a genuine emergency, and whether there was anyone else in the family that could assist in the support.

Not only does this keep the communication between the employer and employee flowing but it also establishes the common ground that not all ‘emergencies’ are emergencies and that the circumstances surrounding a request of this nature can be subject to scrutiny by an employer.

Whilst not pertinent to Derek’s query, time that can be taken off for family emergencies has been confirmed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal as being transient in nature – reflecting the emergency that has arisen, and cannot be used for extended absences.

Furthermore if an employer suspects that this right is being abused by an employee, for example there is a pattern starting to emerge in the days that the employee is absent then an employer is entitled to consider their disciplinary procedures.
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Will Employers be left holding the baby?

Sarah-Varani-150x150Shared Parental Leave and pay will be available for employees with babies due on or after 5 April 2015, and for employees who are adopting where the child is placed for adoption on or after that date. This follows the new right for fathers and partners to take time off to attend antenatal appointments which came in on 1 October.

Shared Parental Leave is intended to give working families more flexibility and choices over when and who takes leave during the first year of their child’s life or adoption, allowing parents to be off together if they wish.

BIS estimates that around 285,000 working couples will be eligible for Shared Parental Leave from April but believes that only between 2% and 6% of fathers will take up the new leave rights.

However, Shared Parental Leave will not replace current maternity, adoption and statutory paternity leave. The two week compulsory maternity leave period immediately following the birth of a child or adoption placement will also remain in place along with the current two weeks statutory paternity leave, meaning that parents can still choose to take leave following a birth or adoption placement in line with the current system. This effectively allows fathers or partners can take both the two weeks statutory paternity leave and Shared Parental Leave if they wish.

The Additional Paternity Leave scheme introduced in 2011, which allows the child’s father or the mother’s partner to take up to 26 weeks’ leave, will be abolished from 5 April 2015. If expectant fathers or partners wish to take a longer period of family leave, they would need to do so via the new Shared Parental Leave regime.
Continue reading “Will Employers be left holding the baby?”