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20 February 2014

Work and Families

Paul Blease, Employment Relations Manager with the Labour Relations Agency (NI) Helpline gives a helpful summary of the current legislation in relation to work and families. (Feb 2014)

Employment law aims to support both employers and working families by providing a framework of rights and responsibilities for both employer and employee. Most of the rights in this area were formed in the 70s and 80s and came under further changes under European legislation. Developments over the next few years will see changes to Flexible working and fully shared Parental leave.

The following rights currently apply to employees:

Parental leave

Parental leave offers qualifying parents the right to take unpaid time off work to look after their child or make arrangements for their welfare. It can help them to spend more time with their child and strike a better balance between work and family commitments
Both parents have the right to parental leave.
They can take a total of up 13 weeks' parental leave for each of their children up until their fifth birthday. If their child is adopted, they can take a total of up to 13 weeks' parental leave until the fifth anniversary of their placement or until their 18th birthday, whichever comes first. If their child is disabled they have the right to take up to 18 weeks' parental leave until their 18th birthday.

Examples of the way parental leave is used include:
•spending more time with their child in their early years
•accompanying their child during a stay in hospital
•looking at new schools
•settling their child into new childcare arrangements

Pregnancy and maternity rights

Pregnant employees have four key rights:
•paid time off for antenatal care
•maternity leave of 52 weeks (26 weeks’ Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks’ Additional Maternity Leave)
•maternity pay benefits, usually Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.
•protection against unfair treatment or dismissal
Employers also have certain obligations to ensure the health and safety of pregnant employees.

Paternity rights in the workplace

To qualify for paternity pay and leave they must be an employee with an employment contract.
They must also be taking the time off to support the mother or carer for the baby and intend to be fully involved in their upbringing.
They must also be either the:
•biological father of the child
•mother's husband or partner (including same-sex relationships)
•child's adopter or the partner of the adopter.

Adoption rights in the workplace

They can take Statutory Adoption Leave for up to 52 weeks. They can claim Statutory Adoption Pay for up to 39 weeks.
To qualify for leave, they must:
• Be newly matched with a child by an adoption agency ('matched' means that the adoption agency gives them the details of the child they think is suitable for them to adopt)
•Have worked continuously for their current employer for at least 26 weeks before the beginning of the week when they’re matched with a child

Flexible working

Common types of flexible working are:
•part-time: working less than the normal hours, perhaps by working fewer days per week
•flexi-time: choosing when to work (there's usually a core period during which you have to work)
•compressed hours: working your agreed hours over fewer days
•job sharing: sharing a job designed for one person with someone else
•home working: working from home.

Anyone can ask their employer for flexible working arrangements, but the law provides some employees with the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern. Provided they are an employee and have worked for their employer for 26 weeks continuously before applying, they have the statutory right to ask if they:
•have a child under six or a disabled child under 18
•are responsible for the child as a parent/guardian/special guardian/foster parent/private foster carer or as the holder of a residence order
•are the spouse, partner or civil partner of one of these and are applying to care for the child
•are a carer who cares, or expects to be caring, for a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative or who lives at the same address as the person being cared for.

Under the law the employer must seriously consider any application made and only reject it if there are good business reasons for doing so.

Time off for dependants
All employees are entitled to reasonable time off work without pay to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. This could be their
•anyone living in their household as a member of the family

An emergency could be any unexpected or sudden problem involving someone who depends on your help or care. The right to time off for dependants could apply to a wide range of different circumstances. We have given some examples in the next few sections of common situations where you could be entitled to take time off, for example:
•if a dependant falls ill
•if a dependant has been injured or assaulted
•if a dependant is having a baby
•issues around a dependant's care arrangements
•unexpected incidents involving children at school
•if a dependant dies

What does the future hold?

Flexible working

In GB the long awaited Children and Families Bill makes significant changes to the flexible working eligibility and request regime. Part 8 of the Bill alters the Employment Rights Act 1996 to extend flexible working rights to all employees with 26 weeks service rather than just those employees who qualify as parents or carers. Employers will also no longer be required to follow the statutory procedure regarding flexible working requests, and must instead consider all requests reasonably.

The new system was to take effect in GB in early spring 2014 but has been delayed probably to summer 2014. It is likely that it will apply to Northern Ireland around the same date.

Shared parental leave
Shared parental leave it is likely to come to come into effect in NI in 2015. This will effectively allow parents to share the statutory maternity leave and pay that is currently available only to mothers (and adoptive parents to share the adoption leave and pay currently only available to the primary adopter)

For more information visit the website at W: where you will find an A-Z of employment law giving useful links to more detailed information on all of the legislation mentioned.

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