Help! I need a nanny… not just any nanny

Organising childcare can cause parents a headache at the best of times. This is especially true when long school holidays compete with limited annual leave entitlements. It is doubly difficult when that childcare needs to be organised at very short notice and with no clear end in sight. Unfortunately, this is the dilemma that many Edinburgh parents are faced with as a result of the sudden closure this week of certain Edinburgh City schools. 

Childcare arrangements and employment law rights

For parents who are employed, the sudden requirement to find childcare at such short notice may mean they are left with no choice other than to take time off work. Here are some things to bear in mind about your employment law rights if you find yourself having to request time off to care for your dependants. 

What does the law say?

All employees (but not the self-employed) have the legal right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to take necessary action to deal with certain situations affecting their dependants. The right is to unpaid time off. It does not matter how long you have been employed by your employer as it is a right from ‘day one’. It applies to both Mums and Dads in respect of a child living in their household.

Would the right apply to school closures?

Yes- the legal right applies in certain situations including when there is unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant. 

Does that mean parents can remain off indefinitely?

Probably not- the law provides parents with time off to put arrangements in place rather than time off to provide the necessary care themselves until it is no longer needed. Employment law does not specify a minimum or maximum length of time off but provides the employee with the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off. ‘Reasonable’ is a concept that the law often relies upon. It can be difficult to know exactly what it means. For these purposes what is a reasonable amount of time off will depend upon the nature of the incident and the employee's individual circumstances.

What should I tell my employer?

Any employee wanting to exercise the right should tell their employer as soon as they can. If possible, you should also let your employer know how long the absence is likely to last. This is not crucial though and with the uncertainty surrounding the school closures it might be difficult for parents to know how long they’ll need to be able to make appropriate arrangements.

What if my employer is unsympathetic?

Taking unpaid time off is a legal right in certain circumstances but there might be other more creative solutions which would appeal to both you and your employer. Perhaps you and your employer can come up with an arrangement which suits you both? Reduced hours, an altered working pattern or working from home are all things which would be worth exploring. Ultimately though, if the employer refuses to allow you to exercise your right when you ought to be able to, or if they treat you unfavourably as a result of your attempt to exercise this employment law right then you may be able to bring an employment tribunal claim. 

Ergo Law is run by two experienced employment law solicitors who also happen to be working parents.  We know how difficult it can be sometimes to juggle life and work. We are experienced at guiding employees through difficult conversations with their employers and ensuring that our clients are well advised about their legal rights. If you need support and advice on your employment law rights and how they affect your role as parent or carer (or advice on any other workplace issue that you are facing) call us on 0131 618 6189 or 0131 618 7007 or email us at we would be delighted to hear from you.

Image credit: Iain L