November 28, 2019

Are Employees Entitled to Time Off when Schools are used as Polling Stations?

Are employees entitled to time off because their child’s school is being used as a polling station

Many schools across the country will close on 12 December. Why? Because they’re being used as polling stations. Are employees protected when they argue their usual childcare arrangements have been adversely affected? Or would their absence be classed as unauthorised?

The right to time off to care for dependants

State funded school premises are often used as polling stations. This is because privately owned venues usually incur a fee. Unfortunately, there’s very little schools or working parents can do about it. Despite well-used arguments about a lost day’s education, contradictory fines when children are taken on holiday during term-time and an ensuing childcare headache, the decision to close the school will be out of their control!

Your employee is entitled to a reasonable amount of time off work to take necessary action to deal with an unexpected disruption or termination of their usual childcare arrangements.  You’ll probably know this better as the right to time off to care for dependants.

Can schools being used as polling stations be described as an unexpected closure?

What’s key is, can the school closure be described as ‘unexpected’? The announcement of a general election may – or may not – have come as a great surprise. However, once this decision was made, schools chosen for use as a polling station should have informed affected parents without delay.

In contrast, affected parents might only have been informed of a decision to close a school due to sudden, adverse weather conditions (e.g. snow, flooding) on the particular day in question. Hence, it was unexpected.

The test will be to establish that it is necessary to take this time off.  If your employee hasn’t taken appropriate steps to make alternative arrangements, having had sufficient time to do so, then generally speaking, they’ll struggle to establish that it is necessary for them to take a reasonable amount of time off.

That said, it’s worth exploring all circumstances with your employee. When was he/she given notice of the school closure? Are any alternative childcare options available to them? How much would these alternatives cost? Essentially you need to find out how much effort the employee has made to avoid asking for time off work.

Could an absence on 12 December be considered unauthorised?

If your employee fails to establish their entitlement, then their absence on 12 December 2019 could be considered unauthorised.

However, a reasonable employer should try to accommodate them by:

  • Allowing employees to take annual leave as an exception to usual policy/practice
  • Offering a day of unpaid authorised leave
  • Allowing employees to work from home on an exceptional basis

The general election is still two weeks away. The right to time off for to care for dependants, as described, is the minimum working parents can expect of their employer!

Next steps

Moorepay customers who have questions about employee absence on 12 December can contact our advice line on 0345 073 0240. If you’re interested in finding out more about our HR Services you can contact us or download our brochure.

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About the author

Michael Farry

Mick has 10 years' experience in providing employment law advice and support in a consultancy setting, both on-site and remotely. His experience extends to handling complex redundancies and TUPE transfers. Mick enjoys working closely and in partnership with corporate and SME clients across a wide range of industries. Mick qualified as a solicitor in 2018 following a two year training contract with employment law as its primary focus. During that time, Mick attained invaluable experience representing clients engaged in contentious employment law disputes and health and safety prosecutions. At Moorepay, Mick provides employment law advice to clients and works closely with the Employment Law Advice Line supporting the department’s continuing professional development.