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I'm due back to work soon and need to sort out childcare – what should my employer be doing to help me?
Your employer is under no obligation to provide support for your childcare needs, although many are starting to realise that offering parents some kind of support can be a useful staff recruitment and retention measure.
However, even if your employer doesn’t provide any practical or financial help with childcare, you should still check your contract to see if your employer offers help in some other kind of way, such as allowing staff to alter their hours to accommodate childcare drop-off and pick-up times.
There are also a number of rights to which you are entitled. In particular, you have the right to request to work flexibly (see our separate section on Flexible Working) and you also have a right to reasonable time off to cover emergencies if you care for dependent relatives. You also have a statutory right to time off for unpaid parental leave
Should your employer agree to your request to work flexibly, you might choose to alter your start and finish times, condense your working week into fewer days or opt for term-time working only. However, you should bear in mind that this is only a right to request and your employer may turn down your request if it feels that there is a reasonable case for doing so.
Remember also that a change to your contract terms following a request to work flexibly is a permanent change, unless you negotiate otherwise.
Time off for emergencies is unpaid. As it is meant to cover unforeseen difficulties and clearly has to be a genuine emergency, this leave cannot be booked in advance. However, you might need to call on the leave to rearrange emergency childcare if, for example, your usual childcare provider is unable to care for your child on a particular day. It is not limited to parents and can also be used if you normally care for a neighbour, a friend or a member of your family.
Your employer will need to take care not to engage in sex discrimination when managing requests to change hours to accommodate child care, since most carers for young children are women. Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show that 4.9 million mothers in England with dependent children are in work in 2017, compared with 3.7 million in 1996.
For a good example, in a recent tribunal case, Fidessa PLC v Lancaster , an employment tribunal ruled that it was indirect sex discrimination for the employer to draw up a job profile which required some tasks to be performed in the office after 5pm, when the relevant tasks could just as easily have been carried out from home.