Tamsin Caine of Smart Divorce recently spoke to hugely experienced Employment Lawyer Natasha Jones. She shares the ins and outs of your rights to working flexibility on separation. Natasha qualified as a solicitor in 1999 and now heads up The Effective Law Group Ltd. She is widely known as the go to person for employees and employers alike
When couples separate, it often creates new issues with childcare and the need for a change in working hours. What has been your experience in this area?
The primary carer is usually the mother, which statistics back up. They are left to cover school holidays, before and after school logistics etc. In addition, they tend to be the first one phoned if a child is off school ill. Whilst some co-parents have one week on and one week off, this is unusual, with most parents opting for a more regular split of the week every week.
Each year a child is in school throws up new challenges, just as you are confident with the routine everything gets tweaked. There are different homework schedule, days for games, after school football, netball, hockey etc etc. Good employers are aware of the needs of parents and offer flexibility. Parents have a pretty hard job of balancing weekly work and home life; let alone factoring in that kids get around 72 days holiday each year excluding weekends. However, statutory holidays are only 20 days plus bank holidays.
What working flexibility are employers expected to offer?
Employers should have a Family Friendly Policy. This can help employers with the retention of skilled staff. It can help with the facilitation of mothers returning to work. They can effect shared workloads. It also helps to reduce sickness and absence. After an employee has worked in a job for 26 weeks continuously, they can apply for flexible working. This might be job sharing, working from home, part time, compressed hours (working full time hours over less days), flexi-time, annualised hours or staggered hours. The employer does not have to accept the application to change the employee’s hours. However, if the decision is unreasonable, the employee may have recourse.
What can someone applying for flexible working hours do to give themselves the best chance of the employer agreeing?
You need to be realistic and honest. As you do the job, you know what it entails. Also, you will know whether it is feasible for you to work less hours or job share or compress all your hours into 4 days. Don’t elect to work from home if you plan to try to do that with a toddler around your feet. This will simply fail and damage your relationship with your employer (and stress you out to a whole different level!)
If you are asking to work less hours, don’t expect to retain the full-time salary. Explain that you know that your income will be pro-rata’ed. If you do need to change your hours and therefore earn less money, you may need to cut your cloth accordingly. Is the latest tech, next holiday, new car really essential? However, this may only be for a few years whilst your children are physically dependent upon you.
You may also need to consider changing your lifestyle to enable you to make the necessary arrangements for your children and make your life work. Before you know it, they leave home and you find yourself missing their constant requests! It is worth trying to put yourself in your employer’s position. However, be firm, you are not asking for special treatment, just the ability to do the best for your family. Go to Flexible Working for more information on how to apply for working flexibility.
What is the position for separating or divorcing couples needing time off for legal appointments?
There are no rights by law to time off for these appointments. However, you will need time for these, as well as other administrative appointments after separation. I would strongly suggest reducing your hours at work where possible following separation to give yourself time. For employees who do a good job, most employers want to help. It is admirable to be strong but Superwoman is a cartoon fantasy because in real life something always gives if you are over-stretched.
What about in emergencies, such as a child being ill?
For one-off emergencies, you can make an application for time off to deal with family situations. You will need to cite the reason. If you have any issues from your employer, you may have recourse.
Do you have any other advice for working flexibility?
For working mothers to succeed and thrive whilst balancing the needs of their children, we all need to work together and focus on the positives of each particular scenario. We should be embracing the strengths of working mothers who are highly skilled with excellent time management skills. Depending on the age of the children, they may have challenges re starting early and finishing late. The skills they have can make the workplace more diverse and often successful.
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Tamsin Caine is a Chartered Financial Planner at Smart Divorce. She specialises in working with separating or divorcing clients to help them to understand how to divide their finances to move forward with their lives. If you would like to speak to Tamsin or find out more about how she can help, email her at Tamsin@smartdivorce.co.ukany time or telephone 07975 922766 during office hours.
Natasha Jones qualified as a solicitor in 1999 and had equity partnership until 2010 when she set up her own business Cheshire Employment Law http://www.cheshireemploymentlaw.co.uk. In 2012, she helped set up and headed northern office for Darby’s Solicitors who merged with Knights in 2016. She then founded and has since headed up The Effective Law Group Ltd https://www.effectivelaw.co.uk/ Natasha delivers more than a legal resolution in a refreshingly simple way as a fixed fee at the outset.