A form of flexible working most synonymous with the Education sector, term-time contracts are now becoming more widely utilised by employers in other industries.

But how do term-time contracts work, and what are the benefits to employers and those employed under them?

Term-time contract definition

As the name suggests, those on term-time contracts are only required to work during periods that correspond with school term time, enabling parents to spend school holidays with their children.

Common in the education sphere for obvious reasons, term-time contracts can be more widely useful for working parents whose children have school holidays for an average of 13 weeks a year. The general idea is that these contracts allow employees to reduce their hours or take time off during school off-season.

The benefits of term-time-only contracts

For employees, the main advantage of a term-time contract is simple: it allows for better balance between work and childcare responsibilities. By only working during periods when their children are at school, parents can better separate their work life from their home life, enabling them to spend quality time with their children during the holidays and focus fully on their work during term time. Of course, this also saves employees from having to arrange childcare, which can be difficult and hugely expensive. These types of contracts are therefore a particularly attractive proposition for many job-seeking parents.

But it’s not only staff who benefit from term-time only contracts; employers are also starting to recognise flexible working as a strategic necessity. Term-time only contracts, compressed hours, remote working or similar are no longer seen as a generous perk, with one survey revealing that 55% of people now expect flexibility when looking for a new job. Accordingly, business owners and HR professionals are now recognising the role of flexible contracts in attracting the right talent, increasing retention and improving their employer brand.

In addition, term-time contracts can also reduce absenteeism. After all, when employees cannot balance their work and home commitments, they may need to take time off work, which can impede productivity and leave you scrambling to find cover.

In some cases, introducing term-time contracts won’t cause much disruption at all. In fact, depending on the nature of the business, there may be seasonal variations in business demand, which could mean this arrangement works well.

In 2017, Scottish based company, Pursuit Marketing, became one of the first private sector organisations to offer term-time contracts.

At the time, Lorraine Gray, the company’s Operations Director, said: “Last year we introduced a four-day week for our staff, without cutting pay, and productivity soared… so this is a natural progression of that policy.”

She continued: “Parents often feel torn between work and spending time with their children, especially during their early years, and this solution resolves that dilemma, allowing them to be at their desks during term time and at home with their children during the various school holidays.”

School holiday conundrum

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how difficult it can be to juggle childcare and work, with many parents having been on furlough or asked to take annual leave if they are unable to make alternative arrangements. Lockdown restrictions complicated matters further, as those over 70 were initially advised to shield and households were prevented from mixing.

Even in more normal times, with extremely high childcare fees and many grandparents still working full-time, options for working parents can be limited. 

Sometimes this means that one of the parents has a hard decision to make: leave their job or pay for childcare. When they balance the pros and cons, work can often be the one that loses out.

Realistically, the only way they can stay in employment is if their employer accepts some form of flexible working. The modern reality of juggling professional and personal commitments has put pressure on employers to think about different ways to tackle the challenge posed by school holidays, and term-time contracts provide one possible solution.

James Tamm

Director of Legal Services

Expert Comment

The truth is that not all organisations and roles will lend themselves to term-time working, therefore it is important to find a flexible working arrangement which suits your business interests.

Once you receive a statutory request for flexible working, you should discuss the change with the employee to see whether there are issues in accommodating the request, if there are other working patterns which could be explored, and the pros, cons and costs of the change to the business.

If you are not sure about how their proposed flexible working arrangement will work out in practice, trial it for a few months. You may discover that it works well, or that it means you need to hire extra staff to cover their work or it is putting pressure on others to take annual leave outside of school holiday periods. In this case, you may think about other options, for example staggered hours, compressed hours or homeworking.

Need help introducing flexible working?

Whether you’re contemplating term-time working or becoming a remote working organisation, our Employment Law specialists can help you to explore different flexible working arrangements and how they align to your business, then work with you to implement them effectively, including drafting, reviewing and amending your contracts.

To talk through your plans and find out more about our support, call 0345 226 8393. In the meantime, visit our free Back to Business Hub for practical guidance on flexible working plus all the template resources you need to manage requests.

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We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

Call us on 0345 226 8393.

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