Mellow Mummy: Parental Leave – Are Your Rights Enough? : Taking life as it comes...

Friday 12 February 2010

Parental Leave – Are Your Rights Enough?

This week we experienced our first childcare 'issue'. Lara has been ill this week with a contagious eye infection. As such, we couldn't send her to Childminder #1 on Wednesday. This presented us with a problem that wasn't easy to solve and which inspired me to research my rights as a working parent – I was little disappointed.

Presented with the choice of (a) Mellow Mummy takes a day out of her holiday entitlement at short notice, seriously pissing off her project manager or (b) Mellow Daddy takes a day out of his holiday entitlement at short notice, seriously pissing of his project manager (who happens to be the same person as in a!); we started to explore our other options. I had heard an inkling that as a working parent, we were both entitled to (unpaid) time off work to care for your child so we looked it up on the DirectGov website.

You may not know that most working parents are entitled to 13 weeks leave (a maximum of 4 weeks each year) between the birth and the fifth birthday of their child. The time off is unpaid (boo) but it is in addition to your maternity or paternity leave and does not effect your annual holiday allowance. The government claim that the purpose of the unpaid leave is to, among other things:- help you care for your child if they are ill, allow you to help them spend more time with their family or to help find them a school or a childcare provider. I had rather imagined that I would qualify under the first point... I did not.

The caveat is that you must take your parental leave in full week blocks, and that you must give at least 21 days notice. So, next time Lara is going to be ill, I had best make sure that she is really ill so that it merits a whole week off work... and that she warns me a month in advance. How bonkers is that?

I'm surprised to find out that there is no government guidance on how employers should support employees if they need to take a small amount of time off work at short notice to care for their children. I can picture scenarios where this could cause a lot of aggravation for employers and employees alike.

Thankfully, we have a set of very friendly family members who were falling over themselves to look after Lara so in the end, neither of us needed to sacrifice a day of holiday. This week I swapped my day off work so that I could be with my little girl on the day when she was most unwell, ensuring that on the day when she did need to stay with her Auntie, she was a little healthier, and a little more cheerful. Things worked out for us, but it made me worry about how other people cope in a similar situation. What happens, when our normal childcare provider is not an option, to those of us whose employers aren't so understanding and to those whose family don't live locally, or perhaps who can't or won't look after their children under these exceptional circumstances?

I'd be interested to know what others do in this situation? Have any of you ever actually used your Parental Leave entitlement? What did you have/choose to use it for? How did it work out for you? Were your employers sympathetic? Let me know your thoughts.
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