Help, my child is sick and I need to work…

Picture the scene:  it’s 6.30am on a dark, cold winter’s morning.  You and your partner are getting ready for work, and when your child wakes up, she is promptly sick and has a raging temperature.  You and your other half look at each other in panic as you realise you both have big meetings today, which would be difficult to get out of….  After establishing it’s clear your daughter cannot go into school, the negotiation begins….who is going to stay at home today… and what about tomorrow and the rest of the week….?

One of the most common worries for returning parents is knowing what to do about work when your baby or child is ill.  If your baby is just starting nursery or mixing with other children at a childminder’s house, it is more likely they are prone to picking up bugs. So, what to do?

  1. Be as prepared as possible and know what your options are in advance and think about priorities. If your child is sick they will want to be with you; you will want to be with them – it’s pretty tough leaving a sick child behind.  If you have another half, who has got the most flexible schedule for the day or week?  Can you do shifts between you?  If not, have you got grandparents nearby who can step in at little notice?
  1. Chat with your manager in the first instance – there are 2 formal leave options below, however in many situations (especially when it is the occasional day), managers are happy to be flexible or may suggest you take the day/days as holidays. 
  1. Is Emergency Dependant’s Leave the right option?
  • As an employee you are allowed time off to deal with an emergency involving ‘a dependant’. This is not just limited to your children, you could also take time off to help a partner or relative, or someone who depends on your care
  • You are allowed ‘a reasonable amount of time off’ to deal with the emergency, but there’s no set amount of time as it depends on the situation
    • Example: if your child falls ill, you could take time off to go to the doctors/hospital and to make care arrangements.  Your employer may then ask you to take annual leave or parental leave if you want to look after your child for longer
  • There are no limits as to how many times you take this emergency leave
  • Your employer may pay you for time off but they don’t have to – check your parental policies
  • You can’t take Emergency Dependant’s Leave if you knew about the situation beforehand – for example a pre-booked hospital appointment
  • Examples of Emergency Dependant’s Leave:
    • If your nanny or carer doesn’t turn up or is ill
    • Your nursery closes unexpectedly
    • If your child is involved in an incident during school time
  • Tell your employer as soon as possible if you need time off. You don’t have to do this in writing
  • Your employer is not allowed to treat you unfairly for taking this time off, or refuse you reasonable time off. If this does happen, speak to HR for advice
  1. Is Parental Leave the right option?
  • Generally used for planned and longer periods of leave as you need to give 21 days’ notice before your intended start-date. This doesn’t have to be in writing, unless the employer requests it
  • If you have completed 1 year’s service, you are entitled to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave for each child, up until their 18th birthday (this has recently increased from their 5th birthday)
  • For each child who qualifies for Disability Living Allowance, 18 weeks up until the child’s 18th birthday can be taken
  • This leave does not have to be taken solely to look after a sick child – it could also be used simply to spend more time with your children – for example if you need to settle them into a new school, visit grandparents or deal with family-related matters
  • There is a limit of 4 weeks per year that can be taken and the time must be taken in blocks of weeks, not days, unless your child is disabled or if your employer agrees otherwise
  • If you work part-time – say 3 days a week – one ‘week’ of parental leave would be 3 days

Always check with your own HR teams because internal policies can differ from these statutory guidelines.

  1. Deal with the emotions
  • If you can’t be with your baby or child every day they are sick – do not worry. You will have clearly left them in safe hands and if you have to be in work, it’s because you know you have to.  During these periods, concentrate on output, productivity, doing the urgent and essential stuff – then go home early if you can
  • Don’t feel guilty, it’s a complete waste of energy and you will need your energy if you are nursing a sick child in the night. Besides, if you have a good team and manager at work, they will understand and any anxiety you feel will (9 times out of 10) be self-induced.  And be assured that all working parents will go through this – you are not alone!