Back to school... How can employers support working parents?

National Working Parents Day takes place on Monday 16 September (look out for #WorkingParentsDay). The origins of the day aren't known but it's a great reason to share the challenges working parents face and how employers can support them to manage work with life at home.

How can employers support working parents?

How can employers help working parents and carers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and those in the workplace?

There are over 13 million working parents in the UK (employed and self-employed), according to information released by the Office for National Statistics in November 2018, and as the desire for better work-life balance increases, it is now more important than ever to ensure that businesses have options in place for their employees to take advantage of to achieve this.

Of course, it’s not only parents that would benefit greatly from improvement it their work-life balance. Carers and those looking after dependants (a dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, parent, or someone else who depends on the employee) may also wish to take advantage of a flexible and understanding workplace.

So, what can employers offer to support their working families? This article will explore some of the options available for businesses to consider offering their employees which could increase their employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Flexible Working

Arguably the most recognisable way to offer employees a better balance is by allowing flexible working. Anyone can make a flexible working request (providing they have 26 weeks’ qualifying service), it isn’t limited to just parents and carers, and there are lots of options on offer. It isn’t just a case of someone going part-time, there are a whole multitude of other choices including compressed hours, variable hours, flexitime, job sharing, homeworking, and term-time only working.

Time Off for Dependants

A “Dependant” includes a husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with the employee as part of their family. Others who rely on the employee for help in an emergency may also qualify.

Employees can use the right to time off for dependants when:

  • A dependant is ill or gives birth.

  • A dependant is injured or assaulted.

  • A dependant needs the employee to deal with a disruption or breakdown in care, such as a childminder failing to turn up, or to deal with an incident which occurs unexpectedly at school.

  • A family member dies, and the employee needs to make funeral arrangements or attend the funeral (some employers may have a specific compassionate leave policy for such cases).

Employees can only take sufficient time to deal with the immediate problem, and the amount of time taken off work must be reasonable in the circumstances.

There is no right to be paid for taking time off for dependants, but the employer should not make the employee rearrange their working hours to make up for lost time. More information here.

Shared Parental Leave

Shared parental leave (SPL) is designed to enable working parents to share leave and to take time off in a more flexible way. This will allow both parents to be at home together if this is what they choose.

SPL will be created where an eligible mother or adopter brings their maternity or adoption leave to an end early. The untaken weeks of maternity or adoption leave can be taken as shared parental leave if the mother/adopter or their partner is eligible for this – up to a maximum of 50 weeks. Shared parental leave may be taken in a single continuous block or may be taken in smaller blocks of leave (a minimum of a week at a time), combined with time at work.

Parental Leave

Different to Shared Parental Leave, Parental Leave gives parents the right to take time off of work to look after their child(ren). Parents can use it to spend more time with children and strike a better balance between their work and family commitments. The leave is generally unpaid, although in some cases Income Support may be claimed when parental leave is taken.

To be eligible for Parental Leave an employee must:

  • Have or expect to have parental responsibility for a child under 18;

  • Have worked for the employer for at least one year.

Parental Leave is available to parents of all children up to 18 years old, regardless of whether they are adopted or birth children, or whether they are disabled or not.

Each parent can take up to 18 weeks Parental Leave in total for each eligible child as long as they meet the qualifying criteria. If they have 2 children, they can take up to 36 weeks in total. There are usually restrictions and most parents will not be able to take more than 4 weeks off at a time per child per year. More information here.

Temporary Measures

It may be beneficial for both the employee and employer to agree to a temporary measure being put in place in order to assist the employee. This doesn’t have to be drastic and can be something that is only in place for a few weeks or months to relieve some of the stress or pressure on an employee. The key here is to be flexible and understanding to the issue that the employee is facing and to agree together exactly what the temporary measure could be and how it would work in practice. As with most things HR it is important that whatever is agreed is in writing and signed by both parties.

Employee Assistance Programme

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) are employee benefit programmes provided by external suppliers that help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and well-being. The services are usually confidential with not even the employer knowing when an employee has used the service. These kinds of services could be crucial to employees that are dealing with issues that they wouldn’t want to discuss at work and could provide critical support to the employee.

There's lots of useful information on the Working Families website. Alternatively, contact HJS Human Resources for specific advice regarding your organisation and employees.

Call 01722 325833 or email

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