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What ‘family friendly’ rights are my staff entitled to?

There are a range of minimum legal rights in the UK that are often described together as ‘family friendly rights. Of course, many employers go beyond the legal minimum as part of their efforts to be an attractive employer, to recruit staff from as diverse a pool of talent as possible, and to retain them.

The key legally is to ensure that you get the drafting of your employment contracts and staff handbook correct, for what you need to achieve operationally. The main rights are summarised below.


Maternity, Paternity & Adoption, including Shared Parental Leave

For all of these issues, it is important that you review your contracts and staff handbook from time to time to ensure they a) meet minimum legal requirements and b) address your recruitment and retention needs in a competitive recruitment market.

Secondly, these are matters that can give rise to tribunal claims for discrimination. We can help you review your policies so that discrimination is not inadvertently built in to them, but also to advise you if you do receive a complaint.

Most employers will know that when an employee takes time off to have a baby they may be eligible for Statutory Maternity Leave (maximum 52 weeks) and Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). SMP is currently paid for up to 39 weeks. The Government publish the current rates here:

Similar rules apply for an employee taking time off to adopt a child or have a child through a surrogacy arrangement, who may be eligible for Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay.

Awareness of Statutory Paternity Pay and Leave is also growing. When an employee takes time off because their partner is having a baby or adopting a child, they may be eligible for one or two weeks paid Paternity Leave. The Government publish the current statutory pay rates here:

Finally, we also now have the ability for mothers and their partners to share leave, under the rules on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay, where they’re having a baby or adopting a child. This increases the flexibility for employees. For employers, the administration can be tricky to grasp. You should also review your policies in respect of any enhanced maternity pay you give to female employees, versus what you would pay a male employee taking Shared Parental Leave, as this is a discrimination risk.


Time off for family and dependants

Employees are allowed ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an ‘emergency’ involving a ‘dependant’. As you can see, there are some definitions that you may need to take advice on. As an employer you don’t have to pay staff for this time off, although many employers do. This is where getting the contract and staff handbook right is important.


Legal right to request flexible working

All employees (not just parents and carers) with 26 weeks service now have a legal right to apply to you to request flexible working. Typically this is to change hours, start or end times, or work location.

The key to handling a request legally is to consider it in an open-minded and ‘reasonable’ manner. An employee can make a tribunal claim connected to this right, typically where an employer hasn’t:

  • Held a meeting to discuss the request
  • Weighed up pros and cons of the request in an open-minded way
  • Offered an appeal

Requests can be rejected on good business reasons, but it is important to follow a fair process first.


Unpaid parental leave

In our experience, this is not used that often. Eligible employees (key points being a years’ service; and parental responsibility or named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate) can take unpaid parental leave to look after their child’s welfare. The entitlement is to 18 weeks’ leave for each child or adopted child, up to their 18th birthday (with a limit of 4 weeks for each child in any one year). There are notice and delaying rules, that we suggest you include in your staff handbook.

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