Family leave top tips

Drawing on her HR consultancy work, Angela Roberts provides a series of top tips for employers on how to effectively – and reasonably – manage family leave. 

Good employers who are keen to attract, motivate and retain employees will be aware of the importance and influence of family and family life. They will not only have relevant and accessible policies and procedures in place to support family life, but will instil a responsive culture which promotes understanding of the issues facing families in modern society.

Family leave includes maternity, shared parental leave, adoption, paternity, parental leave, time off for dependents and flexible working. Ensuring policies are clear and accessible is a key starting point; it is important that all staff are aware of their entitlements and are encouraged to take advantage of these.  Policies need to outline legal rights and the organisation’s process to be followed. This shouldn’t be overly bureaucratic or difficult to understand.

Organisations should ensure that line managers are aware of rights and entitlements, and ensure these are communicated to staff.  Where line managers do not have a good level of understanding, there is a danger of discriminatory practice around decision making.

Thinking positively about promoting family and work-life balance in the workplace is of benefit to employers and employees, so here are some top tips on practically managing family leave. 

Top tips on managing maternity leave

  • Ensure the employee is fully aware of their entitlements from an early stage to enable them to plan.
  • Plan for maternity cover as soon as possible and involve the individual going on maternity in the recruitment and handover.
  • Keep in touch and plan for the employee’s return, making use of keep in touch days where appropriate.  
  • Be open to flexible working requests on return.

Top tips on managing shared parental leave (SPL)

  • As with maternity leave, it is important to keep in touch with employees exercising their right to SPL, to plan return to work and be as flexible as possible in meeting requests for time off.
  • Shared Parental Leave is still not used as widely as intended. There are many reasons for this (including the administrative process, lack of awareness and lack of promotion). Organisations who wish to fully support family life need to consider how they can promote SPL as an option, and make the process of applying as simple as possible.
  • A key part of SPL is the ability to take the leave in blocks rather than be away from the work place for a continuous period. It is important the employers see this as a positive benefit too, and make this as easy as possible from an administrative perspective to enable the individual to take advantage of this.

Top tips on managing paternity leave 

  • Statutory entitlement is to two weeks paternity leave.
  • Organisations should be as flexible as possible in agreeing to paternity leave, and consider whether they can enhance statutory pay to encourage take up of paternity leave, and make sure this is a viable option for employees at this important time for the family.
  • Positively encouraging full use of paternity leave entitlement demonstrates a commitment to your employees and to supporting and promoting family life.

Top Tips on managing time off for family and dependants

  • Employees are entitled to time off to deal with an emergency involving family or a dependant; this includes spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent or someone who depends on them for care.  The amount of time off is defined as reasonable time to deal with the emergency.   
  • It is important to ensure there are good communication channels so that the employee can talk to their manager about the situation and provide updates as things change. Ensuring that employees are able to discuss the circumstances of their request for leave and can easily provide updates is important.  It may not always be possible to speak immediately on the phone, so allowing text messaging or WhatsApp is a good way to ensure employees can keep in touch during what could be a difficult time.
  • Having a policy on dependants leave and time off for emergencies is a good way of raising awareness of entitlements and guiding managers on how to deal with a request. Avoid setting timescales as it’s not possible to cover all eventualities and could detract from each situation being dealt with sensitively and flexibly.
  • When an employee is requesting emergency dependants leave they will understandably need to prioritise the family issue – this needs to be respected and support provided to enable them to manage the situation.  In these situations an employee may well be feeling vulnerable and uncertain – it is important that this is not added to in the workplace.
  • It is important to ensure the employee has enough time to deal with the situation. Where they need an extended period beyond what is regarded as ‘reasonable’ time (as outlined by the legislation), this may need to be covered by holiday entitlement. It may be that holiday is requested outside of normal policy of requesting in advance – it is important to allow this to happen.

Top tips on managing parental leave

  • Parental Leave is an unpaid entitlement designed to enable parents to spend more time with their children, look at new schools, settle children into new childcare arrangements or spend more time with family, such as visiting grandparents. As Parental Leave is unpaid, the take-up is usually low but employers promoting this as a positive opportunity for employees to support their family and demonstrate they are an understanding and caring employer.
  • It is important to make employees aware of this option and the policy around it.
  • When requests are made these should be greeted positively and all attempts made to ensure the employee can take parental leave without any concern for their role or career as a result.
  • Ensuring adequate arrangements for cover and keeping in touch during parental leave are essential.

Top tips on managing flexible working

  • There is a legal entitlement to request flexible working but not for the request to be agreed.  
  • When considering a flexible working request, it is important to positively consider the benefits to both the employer and employee and be open to making the logistics of the arrangement work for both.  
  • It is important to consider how this will fit in with the rest of the team, but too often this is the overriding concern – often without consulting other members of the team. Being open to different working patterns, being clear on working arrangements and having an open dialogue with the employee requesting an alternative working pattern with co-workers is key.
  • Legislation is in place to promote a more ‘family friendly’ working culture and to support family life, but in practice, many of these opportunities rely on employers embracing ideas of flexible working and good work-life balance to support their employees, thereby allowing them to retain valuable talent. 
  • Make the most of the opportunities to improve your reputation as an employer of choice.   

Author: Angela Roberts set up in the HR Consultancy in 2013 and has over 20 years’ experience in senior roles within HR support across different sectors. 

Explore related resources

These areas of the People Skills Hub will help you to address some of the issues covered in this blog:

  • Family leave: Access guidance on how to manage employees going on maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave 
  • Holidays and time off: Find out how to manage annual leave, the amount and the pay, and how to ensure your staff take the time off that they need 
  • Absence: Understand how to manage absence (both planned and unplanned) and how to support your staff on their return to work