If you work full time in the UK, you are entitled to at least 28 days of paid annual leave, including the eight bank holidays. However, for parents of school-age children, the numbers don’t quite add up. First of all, there are all of those weeks at half-term. Next, there are the Easter and Christmas holidays. And then, of course, there’s the ‘big one’ – summer holidays lasting a full six weeks.
Parents are forced to choose between expensive childcare or relying on friends and family members to look after the children when they aren’t able to. Babysitters can get ill, go on holiday or simply be unreliable. Funds may not be able to stretch to cover childcare. So, what can you do?
What the law says
The law says that employers must offer some form of flexibility when it comes to their employees’ emergency childcare needs. This usually comes in one of two forms:
- Offering 1-2 days of unpaid dependent leave
- If practical, offering the chance to work from home
However, sometimes, there’s no choice for parents but to bring their children to work. But is there any legislation around doing this, or are the parameters decided by your employer?
It’s fundamentally down to your employer
If you work somewhere like a factory line or hospital, it is very unlikely that you will be able to bring your children into work. However, some spaces may be more suitable, such as offices or schools. The ultimate decision is down to your employer.
If you are allowed to bring your child into work
If your employer decides that you are allowed to bring your children into work, it is critical that both employer and employee are aware of the risks involved:
- Children may not be able to read workplace warning signs and signals. They must therefore be supervised at all times to avoid any incidents.
- Noise and disturbance to other colleagues. In an open-plan office, the presence of children may disturb other members of the team. Is there a separate area, e.g. a meeting room that could be used?
- Ordinary equipment may become dangerous. A photocopier or filing cabinet may seem a perfectly innocent item to an adult, but to a child, pulling or pushing in the wrong place can cause injury. Tampering with electrical connections can also put children at risk.
- Fire safety. Has the safe passage of children been factored into your fire risk assessment, along with the extra hazards they bring?
In order to negate these risks, employers should consider putting in place:
- Uniform rules for all staff. It is not fair to allow one person to bring their children in, but not another.
- Health and safety revisions. The workplace must be comprehensively risk assessed with the safety of both children and staff in mind, including fire risk checklists and evacuation plans.
- Limitations. Is there an upper limit to the age of children allowed? Is there a limit to the number of days permitted? Are there specific hours or days to avoid?
- Notification. Employers must set up a full procedure that allows workers to request permission for their children to come into work, and timely notifications for relevant employees as to when it may or may not be appropriate.
- Facilities. Will children stay within a meeting room or other separated area for the majority of the day? Which bathrooms and kitchens will they use?
The idea of a creche in the workplace is not a new idea. In fact, it was way back in 2003 when Goldman Sachs brought London’s first on-site creche to the workplace. It offers its employees with children 20 free creche days per year, followed by paid use, allowing them to maintain a better work/life balance without having to leave the office.
Offering such facilities is usually expected to create an initial drop in productivity, but in fact, the opposite is the case. The ability to leave your kid somewhere close by and safe while you get on with your working day transitions into an increase in staff loyalty and retention, both of which dramatically improve productivity levels overall. However, running an on-site creche is far from cheap, meaning currently, only a few large companies (Google, Addison Lee and BookingGo for example) can explore this option easily.
If you need advice on whether you can bring your children into work, or if you’re an employer and are looking for advice on the matter, consult an employment solicitor.