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Taking time off work when your child is sick: know your rights

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As Covid cases surge in schools, it is important working parents know their rights to take time off work to look after their children when they are sick.

Coronavirus infections among children increased in England in September after schools reopened, according to a study by Imperial College London. 

Many parents of children who have tested positive are trying to juggle their working commitments with looking after their children. 

Here's what rights you have as a working parent: 

  • Statutory time off work to care for a dependent: As a working parent you have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with a domestic emergency, which includes when your child is ill, and you need time to make alternative arrangements for their care. Around a quarter of working parents use this right each year. Talk to your boss as soon as a problem arises, giving them a reason for the absence and how long you expect to be away. Your employer may pay you, but they don’t have to. 
  • Paid compassionate or carers’ leave: Some employers provide paid compassionate or carers’ leave. Typically this is around five days per year, to deal with situations like looking after poorly children. Check your employment contract, company handbook or ask your union rep if you’re entitled to this. 
  • Sharing the burden: Remember that both parents are entitled to time off to look after ill children, so it should not be assumed that mothers will drop everything while fathers carry on as usual. Dads can request time off work to look after their children too. 
  • Flexible working: some employers will have policies on flexible working, for example flexi-time so you can juggle your hours to manage your care. Check your staff handbook, talk to your union rep or ask your line manager what's available to you.  

Sensible employers will give their staff time off to look after their children when they’re sick, or to make alternative arrangements for their care. 

Many unions have negotiated paid compassionate or carers’ leave in workplaces around the UK to help parents with situations like this. A change in the law so that all working parents are entitled to take paid time off work when their child is ill and their usual childcare isn’t an option would make a real difference. 

If you’re not in a union, join one. And for more information on your rights on absence at work, visit Acas

Unionised workplaces have negotiated for additional access to flexible work and support to manage care that goes way above what you get under the law.   

You’re better off in a union - joining a union today 

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