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Flexible Working And Time Off For Dependents: What Are Your Rights?

Nov 25, 2007
Dare you ask to work flexibly?

Many employers are coming round to realizing that becoming a mother doesn't make you unemployable. You may have more specific needs than you had before, but companies are waking up to the fact that if they lose you because of their own inflexibility, they lose a valuable member of the workforce.

It's not cheap to replace and train an employee, whereas showing a bit of understanding where an employee is concerned can lead to a happier, more dedicated worker in the long run.

Many women, however, are afraid to rock the boat and struggle on working regular office hours when it doesn't fit with school or nursery care, leaving them tired and stressed trying to make everything happen to suit everyone else. You don't have to do that!

The government introduced flexible working laws in April 2003 to help protect both the employer and the employee by giving them both a structured system that the employee can use to apply to work flexibly.

This is a system specifically designed with working parents in mind and who knows, in the near future when paternity leave and father's rights are on the political agenda again, men might also use it more in order to help out more at home. Well, it's a thought! There's more on this in Chapter 9, The Role of Fathers.

What the law currently says about Flexible Working:

As of 6 April 2003 parents of children aged under six or of disabled children aged under 18 have the right to apply to work flexibly providing they have the qualifying length of service (at least 26 weeks at the date the application is made). Employers will have a statutory duty to consider their applications seriously.

The right enables mothers and fathers to request to work flexibly. It does not provide an automatic right to work flexibly as there will always be circumstances when the employer is unable to accommodate the employee's desired work pattern.

The right is designed to meet the needs of both parents and employers, especially small employers, and aims to facilitate discussion and encourage both the employee and the employer to consider flexible working patterns and to find a solution that suits them both.

It is wise to think carefully about your desired working pattern when making an application, for instance, will it mean a drop in salary? Discuss your ideas with other employees and present solutions to your employers before objections are raised - this will demonstrate your commitment to the company.

In return, the employer is required to follow a specific procedure to ensure requests are considered seriously.

Who can apply?

What kind of changes can be applied for?

n order to make a request under flexible working guidelines an individual will:

- be an employee
- have a child under six, or under 18 in the case of a disabled child
- have worked with their employer continuously for at least 26 weeks at the date the application is made
- make the application no later than two weeks before the child's sixth birthday or 18th birthday in the case of a disabled child
- have or expect to have responsibility for the child's upbringing
- be making the application to enable them to care for the child
- not be an agency worker
- not be a member of the armed forces
- not have made another application to work flexibly under the right during the past twelve months

be either:

the child's mother, father, adopter, guardian or foster parent, or married to or the partner of the child's mother, father, adopter, guardian or foster parent

I Eligible employees will be able to request:

- a change to the hours they work
- a change to the times when they are required to work
to work from home
- This covers working patterns such as annualized hours, compressed hours, flextime, homeworking, job-sharing, self-rostering, shift working, staggered hours and term-time working.

How do you apply?

In summary, the procedure is as follows:

It is up to you as the employee to make a considered application in writing. You are only able to make one application a year under the right, and accepted applications will mean a permanent change to your own terms and conditions of employment unless you agree otherwise with your employer.

Within 28 days of receiving the request, your employer must arrange to meet with you. This provides you both with the opportunity to explore the proposed work pattern in depth, and to discuss how best it might be accommodated. It also provides an opportunity to consider other alternative working patterns should there be problems in accommodating the work pattern outlined in your application. You can, if you want, bring with you a colleague employed by the same employer as a companion.

Within 14 days after the date of this meeting the employer must write to you to either agree to a new work pattern and a start date; or to provide clear business grounds as to why the application cannot be accepted and the reason why the grounds apply in the circumstances and set out the appeal procedure. In the majority of cases this will be the end of the matter.

If the timescales for the meetings don't work within your company, you can agree new ones but this must be recorded in writing by the employer and copied to you.

If it's 'no', what happens next?

The procedure provides an employee with the right to appeal against their employer's decision within 14 days of being notified of it. The appeal process is designed to be in keeping with the overall aim of the right of encouraging both employer and employee to reach a satisfactory outcome at the workplace.

In a minority of cases some employees will have grounds to pursue their request with third party involvement. This may be by referring their request to Acas (Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service), to an employment tribunal, or by using another form of dispute resolution. An employee is only able to take their claim to an employment tribunal in specific circumstances. In such cases, the employer must be able to demonstrate to the tribunal that they have followed the procedure correctly.

Time off for dependents

This always seems to be a vague, blurry area where no one is really sure of their rights.

If you don't want to change your work pattern permanently, but you do have times when you need to take time off, then you need to know what your rights are here. It will also depend on your relationship with your employer and how they view this, as every employer is different. So it might be worth asking around to see what experiences other women have had in this situation so you get an idea of what to expect.

What is time off for dependents?

This is a right allowing employees to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with certain unexpected or sudden emergencies and to make any necessary longer term arrangements. The emergency must involve a Dependant of the employee. An employee who uses this right is protected against dismissal or victimization.

Is the time off paid?

The right does not include an entitlement to pay, so whether or not you will be paid is left to your employer's discretion, so make sure you check your contract to see what is says in there first.

Who is a dependent?

A Dependant is the husband, wife, child or parent of the employee. It also includes someone who lives in the same household as the employee. For example, this could be a partner or an elderly aunt or grandparent who lives in the household. It does not include tenants or boarders living in the family home, or someone who lives in the household as an employee, such as a live-in housekeeper (should you be lucky enough to have one). This is currently under review and may be expanded to include people cared for outside of the home who are not relatives.

How much time is allowed?

The legislation for this doesn't actually specify a time length but it does state that 'For most cases, one or two days should be sufficient to deal with the problem'. For example, if a child falls ill with chickenpox, the leave should be enough to help the employee cope with the crisis - to deal with the immediate care of the child, visiting the doctor if necessary, and to make longer term care arrangements.

There is no limit to the amount of times this can happen, according to the legislation, but again, it is worth pointing out that your employer can decide whether the reason you are taking the time off is justifiable and whether or not you are paid so it is worth making sure you deal with the problem quickly and efficiently, keeping them informed at all times and making sure you make up lost ground when you return. If your employer doesn't know what's going on, they will probably assume the worst.

What if my employer disciplines me?

If your employer decides you have taken too much time off in this way and decides to take action, you do have some comeback. Provided you can prove the time off was for genuine emergencies, then your complaint should normally be made within three months of the refusal to allow time off or from your dismissal (yes, it has happened).

If you decide to do this, you should go to a local Employment Service Jobcentre which will provide you with a copy of the booklet How to apply to an employment tribunal which explains the procedure and gives the address of the employment tribunal office to which your completed form should be sent.

Summing Up

You may decide once you have had a few years of juggling as a working mother that to get the ultimate in flexibility you want to work for yourself or start your own business. That's great if your skills lend themselves to that, and we'll talk about that later in the book.

But for a lot of women, the option is to carry on working for other people and that can be very limiting.

However, with a bit of research, you will see that there are many things designed to help you create a better work-life balance for yourself and your family - without your employer losing out.

It's worth asking your employer what sort of working system they would prefer you to adopt as you may find they have other staff working to a more flexible timeline that you could follow, and that avoids the rigmarole of form filling and meetings, which can be quite stressful.

But ultimately, stick to your guns, and get everything in writing!
About the Author
For more information about baby product reviews, please visit http://www.babyfy.com
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