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 not legally to provide support for your childcare needs but, many are starting to realise that offering parents some kind of support can be a useful staff recruitment and retention measure. 

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 children and older dependent relatives. You also have a statutory right to time off for unpaid parental leave for each child. 

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 were in work in 2017, compared with 3.7 million in 1996. 

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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