Latest insights from our experts
Bring your child to work day – a solution to childcare issues?
All full-time employees in the UK are entitled to a statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave (pro rata’d for part time employees). However, for parents with school-age children, the statutory minimum annual leave does not allow enough time off to care for their children during the school holidays, much less covering staff training days or days when a child is off sick.
Parents are often forced to choose between expensive childcare or relying on friends and family members to look after their children when they are not able to. Childcare arrangements can be very expensive and are rarely 100% reliable. There are other options.
The law says that employers must offer some form of flexibility when it comes to their employees’ emergency childcare needs:
- Allowing a reasonable amount of time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. Naturally, this has restrictions and whether it is paid leave is at the discretion of the employer. It can be a useful way to protect an employee who needs to take one or two days off to cover an unexpected problem but is unlikely to help with anticipated issues such as covering a school holiday.
- Unpaid parental leave. Employers should seek specialist employment law advice in relation to eligibility and employees’ use of parental leave.
Bring the kids to work?
Another option open to some employees is bringing their children to work. This won’t work for many (or indeed most!) employers but may be an option in some cases. The decision is ultimately down to each employer, which will have to weigh up the value of having the employee in work against risk factors.
Points to bear in mind when weighing this up include:
- Children may not be able to comprehend workplace warning signs and signals. They must therefore be supervised at all times to avoid any incidents. Employers may be worried about insurance cover.
- Noise and disturbance to other colleagues. In an open-plan office, the presence of children may disturb other members of the team or stop the employee working productively. Is there a separate area, e.g. a meeting room that could be used? Is there something the child can do quietly?
- 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 prepared to consider this may wish to think about:
- A consistent policy. It is not fair to allow one person to bring their children in, but not another.
- Health and safety issues. The workplace must be comprehensively risk assessed with the safety of both children and staff in mind, including fire risk checklists and evacuation plans. Ensure insurance is not invalidated.
- 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 will want to know who is in the building and may want advance notification (and permission to be given).
- 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?
Some employers include a nursery in the workplace. 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 child 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 can dramatically improve productivity levels overall. However, running an on-site nursery is far from cheap. As such it is only a realistic idea for large companies.
Co-authored by Cory Stephenson