With the high cost of childcare, grandparents often take on the responsibility for looking after their grandchildren while the parents are at work.

Often, the grandparents themselves are still in employment, so do they have a statutory right to take time off for these purposes?

As the law currently stands, employees are not entitled to take time off work, either paid or unpaid, to look after their grandchildren in their role as grandparents.

This could be subject to change. The government announced its intention to extend the right of Shared Parental Leave to grandparents. This was due to become a reality by 2018, but as of yet, little has occurred to indicate this will happen.

Nevertheless, grandparents may have some other options at their disposal.

Time off for dependants

All employees, irrespective of length of service, are entitled to take time off for dependants in order to deal with emergencies and unforeseen matters. Time off for these purposes will be unpaid, unless the employer decides to be more generous.

A dependant could be a spouse or civil partner, child, parent or a person who lives in the same household as the employee (this excludes tenants or lodgers). Therefore, depending on the family set up, a grandparent could fit the brief.

Employees are entitled to a ’reasonable’ amount of time off. This could be a few hours or one or two days – it will all depend on the individual circumstances.

Parental leave

If the grandparents have legal parental responsibility for the child, they may be eligible for parental leave. Legal parental responsibility is obtained by adopting the child, through a residence order or social guardianship order.

Employees with one year’s continuous service may be entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child. This can commence once the child is born or placed for adoption, but it is also available at any time up until the child’s 18th birthday.

Flexible working arrangements

If an employee has worked for their employer for 26 continuous weeks, they can make a statutory request for flexible working. They can request to work fewer hours, change the times they are required to work and vary where they work. Flexible working arrangements, for example working from home, staggered hours or flexitime, could enable the employee to juggle childcare responsibilities with their professional duties.

Remember, employees have the right to ask for flexible working, but there is no right to flexible working. Employers must, however, consider the request in a reasonable manner and can only refuse a request for a good business reason.

Career breaks and sabbaticals

There is no statutory right to take leave or specific laws that deal with career breaks and sabbaticals. Therefore, employers are under no obligation to offer or accept requests, but employers may be open to the idea of employees taking a sabbatical or career break in order to retain valuable members of staff in the long-term or keep know-how in the business.

If you would like to discuss this further, speak to your Employment Law Adviser who can guide you.

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