Emergency childcare


You have a legal right to reasonable time off for domestic emergencies, but not to be paid for it. This includes child illness, but not to attend your child’s school activities. Being forced to attend official work functions or training out of your normal contracted hours could be discrimination if you have childcare responsibilities. Different employers have different policies - read your contract or handbook and if in doubt get in touch with your rep or local GMB office.

What are my rights?

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Parents with school age children will know just how often kids pick up the latest bug doing the. playground rounds. It can be tricky to balance your job with childcare at the best of times, it’s important to know your rights if your child is ill, or if you want to attend a sports day or school play.


My child is ill, what rights do I have?

You have the right to time off, but it doesn’t have to be paid.

This is a ‘good news, bad news’ scenario. You have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with a domestic emergency - which having a sick child counts as - but your employer does not have to pay you. Some employers will, it may be written into your employer’s HR policy. This is something you should check, or speak to your rep about.

Both parents have right to time off. It’s not a case of Mum takes time off so Dad can’t. Both parents have the right to time off.

A lot depends on your employer’s policies. Everyone has the same basic rights, but many employers - especially where there is a recognised trade union in the workplace - have policies better than the legal minimum. You should check your employment contract, company handbook or speak to your rep because you may have extra benefits or flexibility which is better than the limited entitlement the law provides.

School has called, my child is sick but my employer is threatening disciplinary action if I leave. What do I do?

You are entitled to reasonable time off to deal with an emergency, your child being sick counts as an emergency. Your employer does not have to pay you for the time off, but you should not be disciplined as long as you have followed your companies policies for notifying your employer.

I won’t know until the next morning whether my child is well enough to go to school. What information do I have to provide to my employer?

You should let your employer know as soon as possible what the situation is, and should always check your company/workplace policy.

There are no limits to the number of instances where you can request leave to look after a sick child, but if it is a longer term condition your employer may ask for you to take annual or parental leave. If your child has a long term health issue, that may mean they are disabled within the legal meaning of that phrase, then your employer may be discriminating against you if it penalises you for taking time off to be with your child.

This is known as associative discrimination, and is something you should speak to your workplace rep or GMB region about.

Taking part at school

Do I have the right to time off to watch my child's sports day, school play and to attend parent's evening?

There is no right to time off for school activities. Employers may approach this in different ways, some may allow flexibility, others may allow paid time off and some may refuse time off work altogether. If you are having a particular issue, please contact your GMB rep.

Am I entitled to any time off work to be a school governor?

You are entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off as a school governor (unless you’re an agency worker) but your employer does not have to pay you for the time you are out of work (of course some good employers will choose to).

Out of hours working

My workplace typically organises social events during hours which I usually cannot attend due to my caring commitments and picking up my kids after school. As a result I feel left out of discussions and relationship building. Am I being discriminated against?

This is not a clear cut issue. If events are truly social and organised on an informal basis, this is much different to official work functions organised by your employer. There are instances however where this could be direct or indirect discrimination. It’s something you should speak to your GMB rep about.

At busy times my employer asks us to work overtime which I often cannot do because I don't always have childcare cover. Do I have the right to say 'no' and what do I do if they treat me worse as a result?

As with many things, it depends what is in your employment contract. Compulsory overtime is only required if it is written into your contract.

Your employer cannot, however, force you to work over 48 hours per week (due to the EU Working Time Directive) unless you have signed a waiver.

There are other issues to keep in mind here too. If an employer penalises a working parent for refusing overtime due to childcare issues, but doesn’t penalise a male employee who refuses due to a social engagement (for example), this could be a discriminatory practice – if this has happened to you, you should contact your rep or GMB region.

If I have to go away with work to attend training, does my employer have to make any adjustments to help with childcare needs?

This is not cut and dried. If in your job description there is an expectation that you will attend training and events outside of standard work hours, this could be deemed as simply part of your job. This is the sort of issue you should speak to your GMB rep or region about, because even where there is no requirement for the company to make an adjustment, there could be ways to negotiate flexibility or support.

Flexible working

All employees with 26 weeks or more service with their employer have the right to request flexible working. Your employer has to consider a request reasonably, but they are under no obligation to agree. You can only exercise your statutory right to request flexible working once each year, and should do so in writing.

If your employer is doing things properly, their policy should follow the ACAS code which says that they should discuss that request with you (allowing you to take a rep or colleague with you) and give you a written response within 12 weeks, and the right to appeal.

If the request is refused unreasonably or the working pattern you are being asked to work makes it difficult to arrange child care then there may be a discrimination claim, make sure you contact your GMB rep about any issues before making any request- they can help you draft any letters/get you advice if the request is denied.

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