Like many others, I’m working remotely at the moment. I work in business development for a boutique asset management firm. As both myself and my partner have full time jobs, and young children, I asked my employer if I could reduce my hours further than we initially discussed. But amazingly, that has been met with clear reluctance. I’m worried that if I push back too much, I’ll end up being the first one who is let go after things get back to normal. Ironically my partner, who is in a similar role, has been met with a lot more understanding from his company, and is doing more of the parenting at the moment. What are my rights, and what is the best approach to take?
Thank you for this important question. Clearly this is a time when many of us are feeling uncertain, insecure and anxious, and employers are under pressure and facing significant challenges. Employers may be dealing with multiple requests for flexible working from parents at a time that they are also needing to ensure continuation of the business.
If you can keep the communication open with your employer - as the situation evolves and they work through the issues they are faced with - it may be possible to negotiate an arrangement that works for all concerned. In terms of your rights in the situation, here are some key points:
- Flexible working. You do have the legal right to ask to work flexibly as long as you've worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks, and it must consider your request and deal with it ‘in a reasonable manner’.
- By law, employees have the right to take time off work to help someone who depends on them in an unexpected event. However, you DON'T have a legal right to be paid for this time, though some employers may offer paid time off in this situation depending on your contract or your workplace's policy.
- There's no official limit on how much time you're allowed to take off. It just must be 'reasonable' for the situation. The Government hasn't been able to confirm exactly how much time would be seen as reasonable to take off for school closures – for example, if schools stay shut for several weeks or months – it's keeping the situation under ‘active review’.
- Look at other options including taking annual leave or unpaid parental leave. You may be able to book time off as holiday, or take unpaid parental leave. Parental leave is available for employed parents who have been with their company for more than a year, and is usually limited to four weeks' leave per year, per child – though it could be extended at your employer's discretion.
We all realise we are living in unprecedented times. We are all in unchartered territory, and it is understandable if you don’t want to seem too ‘demanding’. But understanding what your rights are is a first step. Keeping the conversation going with your employer is key. As time goes on, discuss what is proving to be sustainable and what isn’t. Ask them for their suggestions, and talk through your options. And most of all, keep things positive – both you and your employer – and its HR team, will be facing similar challenges while working from home.
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