mfg Blog

News and Events

Days off work to care for sick children: know your rights

  • Posted

The Trade Union Congress has called for a change in the law to ensure parents are given paid time off when their children are sick.

As new research released this month revealed that three million working days are lost caring for sick children each year, unions have taken the opportunity to remind working mums and dads that they have the legal right to take time off in these circumstances.

Unions say that three-quarters of working parents currently don’t use this right.

Many are unsure how to balance their working commitments with looking after their children when they are ill, said the TUC.

As a result, it has outlined the following rights for parents whose children are ill:

  • Statutory time off work to care for a dependent

As a working parent, you have the right to take reasonable time off during working hours for dependents, which includes when your child’s ill and you need time to make alternative arrangements for their care.

Talk to your boss as soon as a problem arises, giving them a reason for the absence and how long you expect to be away, because however understanding she or he may want to be, short-notice changes in an employee’s availability can be hard to manage, particularly for a small firm.

Will Hadwen, a rights advisor from the charity Working Families, warned: “The distinction between reasonable and unreasonable is unclear.

“If you take a couple of days off a year because your child is sick or has to be collected from nursery or something like that, that’s probably perfectly reasonable.

“If you’re going to need more than a few days off, it’s best to seek advice as early as possible.”

  • Parental leave:

Another right parents are often unclear about is parental leave, where mums and dads can take 18 weeks’ unpaid leave per child up to the child’s 18th birthday.

To qualify, you must have responsibility for a child and have at least a year’s service with your current employer.

Under the basic right, you have to take parental leave in blocks of one week or multiples of a week and the statutory notice to employers is 21 days. The employer can’t refuse to grant the leave, although they can postpone it.

But because it is unpaid, many choose not to take it.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “A change in the law, so all working parents are entitled to paid time off when their child is ill and their usual childcare isn’t an option, would make a real difference”.