The right to a work-life balance


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Over the last few years, workplaces in the UK have become increasingly aware of the importance of a healthy work-life balance. It has been linked to improved mental health, better productivity levels, lower stress levels and less sickness.

That being said, the 2019 UK Working Lives Survey, which interviewed 5,136 people across the country, found that 60% of respondents were working longer hours than they wanted to.

More worryingly, the report discovered that 66% of respondents had experienced a work-related health condition in the last 12 months, with sleep and anxiety issues being top of the list.

Meanwhile, the annual Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey for 2020, found that out of 1000 respondents, 86% were unable to switch-off outside of work, and 60% reported an increase in a common mental health condition.

On top of this, when it comes to taking unpaid parental leave, many workers are unaware of their rights. A survey conducted by employment law specialists Crossland Employment Solicitors, found that 41% of working parents didn’t know they had the legal right to take off time to care for their children.

Clearly, there’s something wrong here. Read on to discover your rights to a good work-life balance, and the steps you can take if your rights are not being delivered.

Flexible working hours

It will be relieving to know that in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day modern life, you do have the legal right to make a flexible working request.

You may seek out a request for a number of different reasons, perhaps you have children to look after, and want to change your start and finishing times to fit with this. This is known as flextime and the percentage of workers offered this option is now at 54%.

You may be seeking to compress your hours, by completing them over a few days. Or, you might even be looking into remote working. This trend was already on the up-and-up, although the pandemic has seen the number of people working from home skyrocket to 60%!

There is also further flexibility around this. You may request that your flexible working schedule applies to each working day, or limit it to just a few days a week. Alternatively, you may request it for certain times of the year, such as during school term time.

That being said, in order to be eligible for a flexible working request, you will have to fulfil the following criteria. By law, you must:

  • Have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks
  • Have not applied for an additional flexible working arrangement within the last 12 months
  • Be legally classed as an employee

If you tick all of the above boxes, then your employer must get back to you within 3 months and adhere to the Acas code of practice on flexible working requests.

What to do if your request is rejected

It will of course be disappointing if your employer then chooses to reject your request. There are a limited number of reasons why an employer may do this. This includes:

  • They believe that quality of work may suffer
  • They believe your performance will decline
  • There were structural changes planned prior to your request
  • The additional costs of your flexible working request are too high
  • They are unable to recruit additional workers to fill in for you
  • They believe that customer demand won’t be met

However, if you wish to take it further and appeal the decision, there are a few steps you should follow. First, it is important that you refer your case to Acas and then raise your grievance with the company you work for.

If you’re not satisfied with your company’s response, and you believe your request was rejected on grounds of discrimination, you could take your case to an employment tribunal. If you choose to take this step, it would be wise to get legal advice and representation.

Unpaid parental leave

Another area which confuses many workers, is unpaid parental leave. What is it? Who does it apply to? When can you take it? Hang in there, all will be explained.

Unpaid parental leave is the legal right awarded to parents to take time off to look after their children, or make childcare arrangements.

To be eligible for this, you must have worked for your employer for over a year, and be classified as an employee. In addition to this, you must be able to prove you are the legal guardian of your child. This can be proved through presenting:

  • Your child’s birth certificate or adoption certificate
  • The document certifying your legal guardianship of the child
  • A parental order, in cases of surrogacy

You may decide to take time off if you want to spend more time with your child while they’re little or to review their schooling options. Perhaps your child is ill and you want to keep them company in hospital. Whatever the reason, you are entitled to take up to 18 weeks, up until your child’s eighteenth birthday.

These 18 weeks should be taken a week at a time, and you can take up to four weeks a year for each child. That being said, if your child has a disability, you will be permitted more flexibility. This could mean taking a couple of days off at a time, rather than an entire week. You must also provide your employer with 28 weeks notice that you wish to take parental leave.

Financial restraints may be holding you back from taking parental leave, as it is often unpaid, and your employer is not obligated to pay you. But, don’t stress. If you come from a low-income household, there is additional support out there. This can come in the form of income support.

And, rest assured, your employer cannot legally reject your request. However, they can postpone it by up to six months.

If your employer decides to postpone your request, it must be on reasonable grounds. For example, perhaps there is a big project coming up and all work needs to be completed by a hard deadline. Alternatively, it may be a busy time of year for sales, and permitting parental leave at the particular time you requested it, may be detrimental to the company.

Your employer must also inform you of this decision within seven days of your request, outlining  the reason they have postponed your leave and provide you with alternative suggestions.

Time off for dependants

In the unfortunate event of a family emergency, even if you do not qualify for unpaid parental leave, you are entitled to time off to care for a dependant. This could be your partner, child, parent or neighbour.

Whether it’s caring for your family after the death of a loved one, or looking after a loved one who is seriously ill, this right allows you to be there for the ones that need you.

Unless your employer states otherwise, this time off will be unpaid, that being said, you will not need to make up hours lost at a later date.

However, make sure you check your employee handbook, because your employer may go the extra mile and provide you with more entitlements than the bare minimum.

So, whatever your situation, know that in these especially difficult times, you do have a right to safeguard your mental health and wellbeing, and look after your family by pursuing a healthy work-life balance.

Article Created By Madaline Dunn