In an ideal world your employer would understand and accommodate the extra demands placed on you as the parent of a child with additional needs. You might need to take a day off for a hospital visit, or change your working hours once the demands of your child’s diagnosis sinks in.
The truth is too few companies are aware of their legal obligations and many are guilty of discrimination against parents of disabled children.
Here Alex Rook, Associate Solicitor at legal firm Irwin Mitchell, answers some of the most commonly asked questions about parents’ rights at work.
What concessions do employers have to make to the parents of disabled children?
- Flexible Working requests – under the Employment Act 2002 the parents of disabled children (up to the age of 18) have the right to request flexible working arrangements. This is not a right to have flexible working arrangements put in place – it is the right to have a request for flexible working considered.
- Parental Leave – under the Employment Rights Act 1996 all employees have a statutory right to a period of unpaid parental leave after one year’s continuous employment. For parents of a disabled child this applies until the child is 18. Eligible employees can take up to 18 weeks for each disabled child, in blocks of at least one week.
- Time off for dependents under the Employment Rights Act 1996 – the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work where necessary (this does not extend to planned appointments and is intended to cover last minute or emergency situations). A dependent includes a disabled child at any age where you have primary caring responsibility for them.
What is flexible working?
- Flexible working is a change to hours, time or location of work and includes any method of working which is different to the standard work pattern, for example, flexi-time, home working, job-sharing, shift working, part-time working and term-time working.
Do I have to bring my child’s illness up at interview?
- You are under no obligation to discuss your child’s illness at interview but if you volunteer this information the interviewer should not let it influence their decision.
My work is insisting I increase my hours from now on. I have childcare issues with my disabled son. Can I refuse?
- If your contract does not allow for changes to your work hours then your employer will need your agreement to the change.
- However, when people are working flexibly, the contract will often say that the employer ‘reserves the right’ to make changes to this term. This does not give an employer carte blanche and Tribunals have typically interpreted these sorts of clauses very restrictively.
What is the best course of action if these are refused?
- The approach most conducive to an ongoing working relationship is to reach an amicable agreement. For example, considering alternative approaches such as reorganising shifts or an increase in another employee’s hours instead.
- However, where this is proving impossible, the working relationship deteriorates, or you are concerned about losing your job, you should consider raising a grievance and/or seeking advice from a union representative or legal adviser.
What is associative discrimination?
- Under the Equality Act 2010, it is possible for discrimination to be “because of” someone else’s disability. This type of discrimination can include a situation where a parent is discriminated against because of their child’s disability.
I am being made redundant a month after telling my boss about my child’s disability. Is this legal?
- If your role is not genuinely redundant and your employer is letting you go because your child’s disability this is a form of associative discrimination. If you find yourself in this situation you should seek advice from an employment lawyer.
I need to take time off for hospital visits. Do I need to make up my hours?
- There is no statutory right to time off to attend planned appointments with dependents. You should agree unpaid or annual leave with your employer in advance, or request permanent flexible arrangements.