Knowing your rights for work-life balance
Published: 7 Oct 2019
National Work Life Week provides a chance to reflect on your work-life balance. For many working parents and carers, getting this balance right can be elusive. Luckily, there are some legal rights designed to make it a little easier. But many working parents don’t know what their rights are. Most of us know about maternity leave, paternity leave, and shared parental leave, but even if your children are older, there are still rights that you can use.
Research  suggests that 41% of parents are unaware they have the right to take unpaid parental leave, which can be enormously helpful during the school holidays. Many parents pay childcare fees of up to £800 for holiday childcare when they could simply have taken unpaid leave.
Reconciling work and childcare is a delicate balancing act. Children fall sick, nursery hours or breakfast club opening times change, or commutes are disrupted. Parents contact our Legal Advice Service every week because life and work clash, and they don’t know how to square the circle. Parental leave, flexible working, and time off for dependants can all be life buoys for parents trying to balance work and family life.
As a working parent, do you know you have some rights at work that can come in handy?
This is unpaid time off work to care for your children. You are entitled to take unpaid parental leave if you’ve worked for at least a year for your employer, you have a child under 18 and you give your employer 21 days’ notice. You’re entitled to 18 weeks of parental leave per parent, per child but you may not be able to take this all in one go. Check whether your employer has a workplace agreement about parental leave – if not, you can usually only take four weeks per child in any one year. Most parents will have to take unpaid parental leave a week at a time. Find out more about Parental Leave.
Time off for dependants
This is the right to emergency unpaid leave if your child is sick or childcare arrangements fall through unexpectedly. It can also be used to care for others who may depend on you. You have the right to take reasonable unpaid time off, usually no more than one or two days, to give you time to put other arrangements in place. You must let your employer know what’s happening and return to work as soon as possible. Your employer should not penalise you for taking reasonable time off in a genuine emergency. Find out more about Time off for Dependants.
Right to refuse a change of contract
Sometimes employers want their employees to change their hours or other working arrangements; for example, they no longer want an employee to work from home, or want them to work at a different office or factory.
If your employer suggests a change, and you are happy with it, then you are free to agree a change to your contract. However, for many parents and carers, a proposed change may make it impossible for them to continue to balance their home and work arrangements. If you are in this situation and you want to object to the proposed change and you are unable to reach an agreement with your employer, there are various legal arguments that may help you like including breach of contract, sex discrimination and unfair dismissal. See our advice on how to use them and our FAQs.
Right to request flexible working
If you’ve been an employee for 26 weeks, you have the right to ask to work flexibly and your employer has a duty to consider your request seriously. You can ask to change the hours or days you work, or to work from home. Your employer should only turn you down for a statutory business reason, and should reach a decision within three months of your request. Check the detail of the law and our FAQs.
At the end of the day, a lot of this is down to negotiating, so knowing how to best present a request is just as important as knowing your rights. Have a look at our top tips for negotiating.
For more information, call the Working Families helpline on 0300 012 0312 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Research by employment law solicitors Crossland found 41% of parents are unaware of their legal right to take unpaid parental leave to care for their children, and 75% have never taken advantage of this entitlement.