In an ideal world your employer would understand and accommodate the extra demands placed on you as the parent of a child with an immunodeficiency. 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 sink in.
The truth is too few companies are aware of their legal obligations and many are guilty of discrimination against parents of children with a disability.
Here Alex Rook, Associate Solicitor at legal firm Irwin Mitchell, helps us answer some of the most commonly asked questions about parents’ rights at work.
What concessions do employers have to make to the parents of children with an immunodeficiency?
Flexible working requests – Currently, under the Employment Act 2002, employees who care for someone (a child or an adult) have the legal right to ask for flexible working, such as a change of hours or working days. 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.
From April 2014 the right to request flexible working is expected to be extended to all employees, regardless of caring responsibilities.
See https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working/overview for more information on making a statutory request.
Parental leave – Parents who have been employed by a company for more than one year have a statutory right to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave until their child reaches the age of five (usually a maximum of 4 weeks a year, in blocks of a week at a time).
If your child receives Disability Living Allowance then this right is extended until your child reaches the age of 18, and you can take your total 18-week entitlement in blocks of a day at a time. This means you will have more opportunity to take ad hoc days for hospital visits and so on.
See https://www.gov.uk/parental-leave/entitlement for more information on parental leave.
Time off for dependents – Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees who care for someone have 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 of 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 from the standard work pattern, for example, flexitime, home working, job sharing, shift working, part-time working and term-time working.
Do I have to mention my child’s illness during an interview?
You are under no obligation to discuss your child’s illness at an interview but if you volunteer this information the interviewer should not let it influence their decision.
My employer is insisting I increase my hours. I have childcare issues with my son affected by his primary immune condition. Can I refuse?
If your contract does not allow for changes to your working 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 immunodeficiency. Is this legal?
If your role is not genuinely redundant and your employer is letting you go owing to 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?
Unless agreed otherwise in your contract, or your child is under five years old, 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.