1 Introduction to Family Leave
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FAMILY LEAVE POLICY 1 Policy Commitment to Family Leave 1.1 In our commitment to developing equality of opportunity, Durham County Council recognises that, wherever possible, it needs to help employees in developing an effective work-life balance. This balance is not only for individuals who are parents, but also those who have other responsibilities for family members. The overall commitment is preserved in the Council's mission statement: "To make County Durham the best place in which to live, work and bring up a family". 1.2 This policy is part of a package of options available to employees, aiming at maintaining our fundamental focus on service needs alongside the development of a flexible working environment. The policy should be applied in a fair and consistent manner, bearing in mind the principles of the County Council's Equal Opportunities Policy and with an appreciation of individual human rights. 2 What is Family Leave? 2.1 Family Leave covers three main areas: Parental Leave - providing an entitlement for employees with parental responsibility to take time off for the purpose of looking after their children. Adoption Leave - allowing an opportunity for employees who are adopting to take time off to be with their child(ren). Compassionate Leave - an entitlement to help an employee deal with an unforeseen situation affecting their dependants and other emergency circumstances. 2.2 Section Five in this policy provides more details regarding how these schemes can operate. 2.3 The leave opportunities are intended to assist employees in overcoming some of the significant issues and problems that arise in relation to responsibilities for children and other dependants. However, it is clear that applications for taking Family Leave must be focused on providing support in one of the above three areas. It must be not be used for any other 3 Legal Background purpose. 3.1 The Government, through the Employment Relations Act 1999, introduced Parental Leave. This has been amended by further legislation in 2001. They included a 'Model Scheme' which detailed the minimum requirements. The County Council's policy meets those requirements and, in some areas it exceeds them. 3.2 The legislation also referred to Adoption Leave and Time Off For Dependants Leave. Therefore, the County Council's established arrangements for granting Adoption Leave and time off to deal with domestic emergencies have also seen further development. 4 Overall Eligibility 4.1 The policy is applicable to all employees of the County Council who meet the eligibility criteria. 4.2 Employees should be continuously employed for twelve months before becoming eligible for Parental or Adoption Leave. Note, for the purposes of this policy alone, continuous employment can also include service of twelve months with one or more other employers between 15 December 1998 and 9 January 2002 These time limits are part of the Government's transitional arrangements for Parental Leave. 4.3 One exception to the service rule relates to fathers who qualify for a week of Maternity Support Leave - this is deemed to be the first week of any Parental Leave allocation. There are also no service requirements for Compassionate Leave. 4.4 This Family Leave Policy will only apply to employees within schools with delegated powers if accepted by the Governing Body of the school. However, the basis of the majority of the policy now forms a requirement in employment law. Therefore, all schools will still need to meet statutory demands. 4.5 Temporary employees of the County Council are to be treated in an equivalent fashion to permanent staff. Therefore, a temporary employee fulfilling the eligibility criteria will be entitled to Family Leave. 4.6 Part-time employees are subject to the same entitlements as full-time employees on a pro-rata basis. 4.7 The provisions of this policy apply from the date of implementation -15 January 2002. 5. Procedures Within The Policy Parental Leave 5.1 This entitlement within the County Council is based on the following criteria: The employee must have parental responsibility for the child; The employee must have been continuously employed for at least one year (as defined in Section Four) - fathers who already benefit from the corresponding contractual entitlement to Maternity Support Leave are exempt from this requirement for the first week of leave; Leave can be taken for a child born on or after 15 December 1999 and who is under the age of five, unless the child is in receipt of a disability living allowance, in which case it can be taken up to the 18th birthday; Leave can be taken for a child born between 15 December 1994 and 14 December 1999. The entitlement must be taken by 31 March 2005, unless the child is in receipt of a disability living allowance, in which case it can be taken up to the 18 th birthday. The employee can take 13 weeks of leave for a child, unless the child is in receipt of a disability living allowance, in which case 26 weeks will be available; An employee is restricted to a maximum of four weeks of Parental Leave for each eligible child during each year (eight weeks for a child with a disability living allowance); Leave will be taken on an unpaid basis - however, fathers who already benefit from the corresponding contractual entitlement to Maternity Support Leave will receive one week of paid leave and a maximum of twelve weeks of unpaid leave. 5.2 Parental responsibility can include employees who are biological parents, step-parents and official guardians. The definition can also include separated or divorced people who retain visitation rights and any individual who can satisfactorily demonstrate that they have primary responsibility for looking after a child. 5.3 Parental Leave must not be merged with Maternity Leave provisions, although one form of leave can follow another. 5.4 Parental Leave can be taken in blocks or multiples of one day. Requests for leave should normally be made with 21 days of notice. In the case of a father taking leave immediately after the birth of a child, the notice should be provided 21 days before the expected week of childbirth. Adoption Leave 5.5 This entitlement within the County Council is based on the following criteria: The employee must have parental responsibility for the child through the adoption process; The employee must have been continuously employed for at least one year (as defined in Section 4); Leave can be taken for a child placed for adoption on or after 15 December 1999. The entitlement must be taken within five years of the placement or the child's 18th birthday, whichever is the sooner. Where the child is in receipt of a disability living allowance the leave can automatically be taken up to the 18th birthday; Leave can be taken for a child placed for adoption between 15 December 1994 and 14 December 1999. The entitlement must be taken by 31 March 2005, or the child's 18th birthday, whichever is the sooner. Where the child is in receipt of a disability living allowance the leave can automatically be taken up to the 18th birthday; 5.6 Where the manager is satisfied that the application is from an employee who will be the primary carer for the adopted child, they will be entitled to a maximum of 29 weeks of leave. The first seven weeks will be at half-pay. 5.7 The first 16 weeks of leave must be taken immediately after the placement of the child. The remaining 13 weeks of leave can be taken in blocks or multiples of one day. There are no restrictions on how much leave can be taken in a year. The employee retains the entitlement to take the full 29 weeks immediately following placement. If the employee does not return to work for a total period of three months after taking the full entitlement to paid Adoption Leave, he/she will be liable to repay the seven weeks of half-pay previously granted. 5.8 An employee who is not the primary carer will be entitled to one week of paid leave and a maximum of twelve weeks of unpaid leave (a total of 26 weeks if the child is in receipt of a disability living allowance). The leave can be taken in blocks or multiples of one day. The employee is restricted to four weeks for each eligible child (eight weeks for a child with a disability living allowance) during a particular year. 5.9 Requests for leave should normally be made with 21 days of notice. Where an employee intends taking leave immediately after the placement, the notice should, where possible, be provided 21 days before the expected week of the adoption. Details should also be provided of how much leave is to be taken. 5.10 An employee who qualifies for a longer period of leave shall respond to any request from the Authority about confirming his/her intention to return to work. This request may be formally made no earlier than 21 days before the end of the originally notified date of return. In addition, the employee should notify the Authority, in writing if requested, at least 21 days before of the day on which he/she proposes to return, if this is before the originally notified date of return. Where the notice given is less than 21 days, the manager may postpone the return to ensure 21 days' notice, but this postponement may not go beyond the end of the Adoption Leave period. 5.11 An employee seeking to adopt may also be entitled to no more than three days of paid leave in any twelve month period for pre-adoption purposes. 5.12 Any employee involved in an adoption process that is curtailed should notify their manager as soon as possible and normally return to work within seven days of the child ceasing to live in the household. Compassionate Leave 5.13 Paid Compassionate Leave allows an employee to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with an unforeseen or sudden emergency, which affects a dependant. This entitlement exists from day one of starting their job. 5.14 Compassionate Leave can also be granted to help an employee deal with an emergency domestic situation within the home environment, for example to deal with the aftermath of a burglary or a fire. 5.15 Leave for a problem affecting a dependant may be granted for a number of reasons: To provide assistance on an occasion when a dependant falls ill, or is injured or assaulted - the illness may be mental or physical and need not necessarily be life threatening; To provide assistance during a difficult time when a dependant is having a baby - this excludes taking time after the birth as other leave options may be more appropriate; To make longer term care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured; To deal with the death of a dependant; To deal with an unexpected disruption which involves the child of the employee during school hours. 5.16 A dependant can be classed as the husband, wife, partner, child or parent of an employee. In addition, it can be someone who lives in the household as part of the family (excluding tenant, boarder, housekeeper etc.) or, in certain circumstances, someone who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance. 5.17 If granted, a reasonable amount of time with pay can be taken as Compassionate Leave. This may be limited to a few hours and should not exceed two days, except in cases of the death of a dependant where it is possible to extend leave to three days, or longer in exceptional circumstances. Where any employee attempts to make an excessive number of applications for Compassionate Leave, it may be appropriate to consider the viability of other arrangements. 5.18 An employee should advise their manager as soon as practicable about the reason for any absence and how long they expect to be away from work. 6. Communications 6.1 It is important that both the employee and the manager, in relation to any request for time off, follow the correct procedures under the Family Leave Policy. This includes completion of any required documentation or provision of any relevant evidence as part of the process. The employee and his/her manager should also discuss the practicalities of the Family Leave Policy prior to taking any leave entitlement. 6.2 Any employee starting work with the County Council may be asked to complete a signed declaration detailing how much leave he/she has taken while working for previous employers and other County Council departments. Supporting and appropriate records may also be requested. Taken leave will be deducted from the overall entitlement per child. Note should also be made of Section Seven which deals with Multiple Contracts. 6.3 The employee should advise their manager as soon as practicable about any request for absence under this Policy - meeting any minimum notice timeframes outlined in Section Five and completing any application form. They should also provide as much information as possible about the expected duration of absence. In exceptional circumstances, an employee may return to work after taking Compassionate Leave before it is possible to contact their manager about the absence. However, they should immediately advise the manager on return to work. 6.4 The manager should maintain adequate record systems for the different forms of leave, as well as cooperating with central departmental systems. This can include requiring details of any relevant evidence, for example, a copy of a child's birth certificate or adoption papers. 6.5 Clear and prompt information should be given to the employee where any application for leave is refused because the manager believes the employee does not meet the qualification criteria. Similarly, notice requirements should be adhered to if advising an employee about a postponement of Parental or Adoption Leave. A postponement can occur when the operation of the organisation would be unduly disrupted, for example, when the work is at a seasonal peak or when the employee's absence might be particularly harmful to unit effectiveness. The manager should confirm any postponed leave in writing within seven days of the original request. The leave must also be taken within three months of the delay. However, leave cannot be postponed when it is being taken immediately following childbirth or placement for adoption. 6.6 There may sometimes be a difference of opinion following a decision about an application for Family Leave. The decision can be referred for review to the next management tier up within the department. Personnel Services should also be consulted in these circumstances. 7 Multiple Contracts 7.1 In cases where an employee has more than one job for the County Council, he/she is only entitled to one leave allowance per child. Employees should provide information about other County Council contracts. Departments should communicate with each other, to ensure that a record is kept of the whole leave taken. 8 Contractual Skills 8.1 The employment contract continues during the taking of any leave, although leave is taken on an unpaid basis, unless specified otherwise within the policy. This includes the County Council's obligation to the employee of trust and confidence. The employee must also show good faith to the Authority. During the taking of any leave, participants must not take up other employment with another employer without advising their Chief Officer. Any other employment of this nature must not conflict with the County Council's Code of Conduct. Details with regards to applicability of payment to the employee during any absence can be found in Section Five. 8.2 Where a bank holiday falls during Parental/Adoption Leave, normal pay for that day will be provided where the employee has specified that they do not wish to take that day as Parental/Adoption Leave. 8.3 Where up to four weeks leave is taken, the employee is entitled to return to the same job following Family Leave. In any circumstances where it is possible to take more leave - for example, if the four weeks of Parental Leave were added on to additional Maternity Leave - the requirement is to return the employee to the same job, or if this is not practicable, some other suitable and appropriate alternative. The duty to attempt to secure alternative employment also remains in any redundancy or reorganisation situation involving the employee. 8.4 When leave is taken, monthly repayments for car loans or car lease payments will still be deducted. Essential car user lump sum allowance payments are still paid during the period of leave. 9 Pensions 9.1 If an employee takes unpaid leave of 30 days or less, he/she will have to pay normal contributions if they want this time to count as a period of membership of the occupational pension scheme. There are further implications linked to counting a period of membership if the absence is for a continuous period of longer than 30 days - for example, taking four weeks of Parental Leave immediately after a previous spell of unpaid leave. Further guidance should be sought from the Pensions Group. 10 Dealing With Abuses of The Policy 10.1 Employees should not attempt to abuse the policy. Leave must be taken in line with the Policy as supported by management guidelines. If it is believed that the employee is taking leave for purposes other than those prescribed, the matter should be subject to the County Council's Disciplinary Procedure. Any proven case of policy abuse may result in dismissal. The following, although not necessarily a comprehensive list, will constitute abuse of the policy: Taking Parental Leave for purposes other than caring for a child - this will generally be in circumstances where someone other than the employee is taking primary responsibility for the child; Making a false statement as to entitlement, for example the age of the child, the relationship with the child or the amount of Parental Leave taken with a previous employer. 11 Penalising The Employee 11.1 An employee should not be penalised or suffer a detriment in any way for seeking to take, or taking Family Leave for a genuine reason. Denial of time off in a legitimate situation may infringe a statutory employment right. 12 Responsibilty For The Policy 12.1 Chief Officers and departmental managers will be responsible for operational management of the Family Leave Policy. Support and advice can be obtained from the Personnel Services Division, which is responsible for the corporate management and review of the policy. 13 Further Information 13.1 Further information can be obtained from the service teams in the Personnel Services Division or through the Personnel Policy Team. This policy will also be made available on the County Council Intranet site. In addition, employees can also consult a leaflet that provides details of the main issues within the Family Leave Policy. Managers should read this policy in conjunction with the Management Guidelines to Family Leave. Other advice can be obtained from: Pensions Group, County Treasurer - 0191 3834429 Parental Leave - A DTI guide - employers/employees (URN 99/1193). Time Off For Dependants - A DTI guide - employers/employees (URN 99/1186). www.dti.gov.uk/ SUMMARY OF FAMILY POLICY ISSUES Parental Leave The employee must have parental responsibility for the child. Employment must have been continuous for one year, with the exception of fathers entitled to one week of Maternity Support Leave. Leave should be taken before the child's fifth birthday, unless the child is in receipt of a disability living allowance, or the child was born between 15 December 1994 and 14 December 1999. Each employee is entitled to 13 weeks of leave (26 weeks if the child receives a disability living allowance). Leave, except for any Maternity Support Leave element, will be unpaid. Leave can be taken in blocks or multiples of one day. Leave is restricted to four weeks per child per leave year. 21 days of notice will normally be required for leave arrangements. Leave can be postponed, except for fathers at the time of the birth. Adoption Leave The employee must have parental responsibility for the child. Employment must have been continuous for one year. The duration available for taking leave is dependent upon the entitlement following the placement date of the child, or reaching the child's 18th birthday. An employee classified as a primary carer will receive 29 weeks of leave, the first seven weeks being at half pay; an employee not classified in such a way will receive 13 weeks (26 weeks if the child receives a disability living allowance), including one week of paid leave. Pre-adoption leave of three days per twelve month period will be available. Compassionate Leave Paid Compassionate Leave can be granted to help the employee deal with an unforeseen or sudden emergency involving a dependant or other domestic crisis. A dependant can include a spouse, child, parent or someone else within the household who is treated as part of the family. Time off can be limited to a few hours and should not normally exceed two days, except in times of bereavement.