While it is important to demonstrate a sense of compassion towards your employees and their personal circumstances, there is no legal requirement for you to help employees with childcare costs, and any obligation on your part would be contained in the employee’s contract of employment, so you should look here to ascertain the exact contractual position.
If there are no such contractual provisions, you could suggest to the employee that she make a request for flexible working. Flexible working is often seen as a method to reduce the number of hours that an employee works. For example, someone who is returning from maternity leave may want to cut her working days from five to three so that she can spend more time with her baby. However, this is not the only change to be achieved from flexible working.
A change to working patterns could also mean a change to the times that work is performed. If a shift of the starting times and end times of her working day would mean that the employee would be able to look after her children at the times when she needs to, but also maintain the number of hours she works, this could ease her current predicament. Her wage will not drop because the amount of hours she works will be maintained, but she will simply be working at different times of the day.
In order to make a statutory request, the employee must have worked with you for 26 weeks counted back from the date that the change to her working pattern would commence. Provided she has not already made another statutory request for flexible working in the previous 12 months, then you have a duty to consider this request under the statutory scheme.
Your authorisation of this request is dependent on whether the employee’s request can be accommodated – you are not obliged to accept the request on the terms it is made, and you may suggest alterations or you may refuse it in its entirety provided that the refusal is based on one the prescribed reasons. However, the request enables dialogue to be opened between you and the employee on what situation may be of benefit both parties.
Alan Price is employment law director of Peninsula.