How should employers support parents with a seriously ill child?

A mother is petitioning for statutory career breaks for parents of ill children.

A petition has been started for a statutory requirement for employers to offer career breaks for parents with a seriously ill child, but some have questioned the practicality of such a policy.

Christina Harris, who left her job to care for her daughter who was suffering from leukaemia, started the petition in June and it has now gained nearly 100,000 which would make it eligible for debate in Parliament. 

Harris said: “Employers should be required to grant special breaks for parents in this situation enabling them to return to their jobs afterwards.

“Parents shouldn’t face losing their jobs on top of dealing with the possibility of losing their child.”

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As there is currently no statutory right to such leave Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at insurance advisors Partners&, said employers should do everything they can to ensure employees whose children are ill don’t feel forced out of work.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Options such as flexible working, remote working, or part-time hours should all be fully explored in such circumstances, with the employer actively seeking pragmatic solutions and perhaps considering meeting the costs of any reasonable adjustments to facilitate the transition too.”

If employees are genuinely unable to work, as in Harris' case, he said career breaks can provide useful future stability. 

He added: “The employers offer a paid, or even unpaid, career break to at least provide their employee with a way back to employment and financial security in the future.”

However, Ian Moore, managing director of HR consultancy Lodge Court, said career breaks could cause disruption and extra costs for employers.

Speaking to HR magazine, Moore said: “Career breaks may cause disruption to the company's operations, leading to more workload for other employees. And there’s the cost of hiring temporary replacements and loss of capacity of the workforce.

“However, the benefits of granting career breaks to parents of sick children may outweigh the costs, as it can help create a more compassionate and supportive workplace for all.”

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The government said there are currently no plans to introduce parental career breaks.

Parents are entitled to emergency time off for dependents and 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave up to their child’s 18th birthday.

The Carer’s Leave Act, which will be implemented in 2024, will also allow employees who are carers to take a week of unpaid leave per year.

Parental support consultant Charlotte Speak said employers should not wait for legislation to implement parental career breaks initiatives.

She told HR magazine: “We need to be careful not to suggest this is going to be difficult to implement – it shouldn't be. Companies have long offered career breaks for a myriad of reasons; this is one you really wouldn't want to have to take but desperately need to.

“As an employer this could be a strong signal that you value your people and want to support them however you practically can. Don't wait for legislation, you can start now.”