HR Case Confidential – How much time off work is reasonable for an employee who has a sick child? #hrissue

Croner’s team of HR advice line experts have shared a recent case with us.

A nursery employee, who was a mother of two, called in to ask for a day off to look after one of her children who was ill and couldn’t attend school or nursery. This in itself would not be a problem; however this had happened on five other occasions in the last six months. The nursery manager was concerned that it was beginning to have an impact on the business and wanted to know what action could be taken.
Employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with certain unexpected or sudden emergencies relating to a dependent; and to make necessary longer-term arrangements (dependency leave). It could be said that the employee in question was exercising her statutory right. However in such circumstances what is ‘reasonable’ is not defined in the legislation, and therefore depends entirely on the individual circumstances of each case. In this instance the nursery manager conducted a return to work interview on each occasion, and found that it was a genuine emergency each time.

The Croner employment consultant advising in this case offered the following guidance:

  1. Meet with the employee on her return to work
  2. Review the number of occasions of dependency leave taken in the last six months
  3. Stress that while dependency leave is a statutory right, it is extended only to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off. Share the concern that this is now felt to be becoming unreasonable
  4. Qualify this statement by discussing the impact that it is having on both the allocation of resources and colleagues
  5. Remind her that the right to dependency leave is extended to both parents, and to ask her to consider what alternative arrangements could be put in place, if either of her children fell ill unexpectedly again. Ask her to discuss this with family or friends in her support network to consider whether there was any alternative to her always having to take dependency leave
  6. Assure her that while you are not imposing a limit on the number of times she can take dependency leave, if contingency plans in place, you would hope to see a reduction in the frequency of leave taken.

A meeting took place between the employee and manager, in which it transpired that the employee was not aware that the right to dependency leave extended to fathers. The employee was also fortunate that her mother lived locally and did not work; so the request by the employer to see a reduction in the amount of dependency leave was reasonable and would likely reduce in the future.

The key thing for managers to note from this case is that you should take every situation on a case by case basis.

Don’t forget dot 2 dot members have access to Croner’s team of employment law experts through their Helpline, you can call them on 0844 561 8111.  For further information, please call one of the dot2dot team on 01204 570390

jackie hyde