Holiday Headaches for parents and employers
Now that the long summer school holidays have finally arrived, I am reminded of my time as a working mother facing the logistical nightmare of what to do with my two young children in the long summer vacation. I suspect not much has changed for parents today. The fortunate ones will be jetting off on holiday for two weeks sunshine whilst others may have planned a similar relaxing time avoiding airports, ferry ports and the like holidaying in the UK.
Whatever floats your boat, there still remains the nightmare of what to do outside of the two week break (if you are lucky enough to get one)? Depending on which type of school your young ones attend there may be anything up to seven weeks additional holiday to cover outside of the two weeks family holiday. Most families try to cover these with a combination of paid day care; summer clubs and camps; family members and shared care between mum and dad if they have sufficient annual leave to take.
But what about those who cannot afford paid care or who do not have family members who are conveniently placed to help out? What about single mums or dads and low paid workers? What about where your youngster is suddenly too ill to attend play camp or whatever other arrangement you have made?
Pressures on working families with young children can often be exacerbated in holiday time causing them to be genuinely ill through the stress of being unable to manage. Or, they may feel they have no option but to use the excuse of illness to take time off to look after their children – especially where there is an entitlement to company sick pay.
This causes significant challenges and disruption to businesses that are already especially stretched during the long summer holiday period. It is more so in some cases than others; especially essential services such as the health service, police, fire and ambulance and transport.
Sporadic absenteeism generally causes even greater disruption to businesses because cover cannot be planned in advance and it can be difficult to find temporary or locum cover because of seasonally reduced supply. Where locum cover can be found it is likely to be expensive and less effective than the individual they are replacing.
Another common problem is the employee who returns from holiday on a very late night/early morning flight and is either still intoxicated from the holiday and wholly unfit for work or simply far too tired to turn in. They call in sick on the day that should have been their first day back.
What can the employer do?
• Pre plan ahead. If you know your staff members have children and that holiday time is going to prove difficult, discuss their planning with them well in advance and work on an agreed solution if possible. Not all employers can allow unpaid leave, compressed hours, home working or flexi working but if options like these can be offered it may provide an affordable and effective solution for both sides. Furthermore, having the discussion at an early stage will emphasise to the employee the importance of having their arrangements sorted out well in advance making it more difficult for them to later make excuses around child care issues should they not turn in for work.
• By pre planning you will also be better able to avoid or deal with potential staffing crises as and when they arise.
• Back to work interviews should beheld immediately upon return if possible to get to the root of the problem and to warn the employee about their responsibilities to perform their contract.
• Unauthorised absences should be dealt with via the disciplinary procedure and pay deducted for the days not worked. This is not a case of being unsympathetic but ensuring the employee understands and acknowledges their responsibility to make effective child care provision because the organisation has contractual and statutory obligations toward third parties.
• Where parents have to take leave to care for their dependants on an emergency basis, they are of course entitled to unpaid statutory leave in order to resolve the problem. However, this cannot be used other than in a genuine emergency situation and only for so long as is reasonable to solve the immediate crisis.
School holidays are a difficult time for both the employee parent and the business that employs them. A collaborative approach to find a workable solution is by far the best alternative but failing that absences will need to be dealt with in accordance with your absence management and disciplinary processes.