Am I allowed to take time off work if my kids are sick? Parents' employment rights explained

BEING a working parent can be something of a challenge, to say the least.

Not only do you have manage all the responsibilities of child-care and full time-work but you also have to be prepared for when your child inevitably needs a sick day off school. Here's your employment rights.

Am I allowed to take time off if my child is sick?

In short, yes.

A child is technically your dependent which means you are allowed to take time off work to cope with an emergency.

Even if that emergency might actually just be a horrible common cold.

A day or two is considered sufficient to deal with a crisis, and time off beyond this point may result in unpaid leave.

A dependant is defined as a spouse, partner, child, parent, or someone who depends on an employee for care, an elderly neighbour for example.

The Citizens Advice Bureau states: "If you’ve worked for your employer for a year you have the right to unpaid time off work to look after your children."

The right to time off covers: a lack of childcare, to arrange or attend a funeral, to care for a dependant who has fallen ill or to put long term care in place for children or elderly relatives.

How much time do I get off?

Like most things, this depends on the individual scenario.

The Citizens Advice Bureau also states: "You can take up to 18 weeks' unpaid leave before your child is five. If your child is disabled you can up to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave before your child is 18.

"You can also take unpaid time off work to deal with unexpected problems – for example where childminding arrangements break down."

However, the sooner you can let your employer know when you're going to be back at work the better.

That way, you can both agree on the set amount and it's less likely it will have a negative affect on your work.

What about pay?

Annoyingly, this depends from contract to contract.

Some employers do pay for unexpected time off but not all are required to.

The Gov UK website recommends checking the details of your employment contract, your company handbook or the intranet site to get clued up on their individual policy.

Exceptions to the rule

You can only take time off work to look after your child if it is in the case of something unexpected.

For instance, if your child has had a doctor's appointment booked for the past few weeks then you will need to get Parental Leave instead.

Companies are required to let their parental employees take unpaid leave to look after their child's welfare.

This could mean booking a day off here and there to spend quality time with their kids, look around schools, or get used to a new childcare routine.

Parents can take this time off work safe in the knowledge that their employment rights and job security is ensured during this period.

What is unpaid parental leave?

Parental leave is for employees to take time off work to look after a child's welfare, this leave is normally unpaid, and is available for each child up to their 18th birthday.

The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take a year is four weeks.

You must take parental leave as whole weeks rather than odd days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or your child is disabled.

Eligible employees can use this leave to spend time with their kids, settle children into childcare arrangements, stay with their child in hospital and visit family members.

To qualify you must:

  • Have worked in the organisation for more than a year
  • Have "parental responsibility" for the child, as defined under the Children Act 1989
  • Be named on the child's birth certificate or have obtained formal legal parental responsibilities


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