As a working parent, one of the biggest external factors that has impacted my career is illness. Not just me getting a cold, or the odd sore throat. Real, unstoppable, plague like illness, the kind that small people (especially those in the 5 yrs and under category) like to bring home and smear around the whole family.
Recently, my family fell foul of the winter vomiting virus, it spread like wildfire through the kids school and parents are literally beside themselves with worry as we all fall like dominoes, one by one, in batches. They are anxious because something has to give, and that something, inevitably, is work. The children need to be cared for, sick buckets emptied, bedclothes washed, hands held through the night, and that's before you eventually, inevitably, succumb to the virus yourself.
I am lucky. No, I don't particularly relish the thought of another shout of 'MUMMY!!!' from upstairs! but, I am my own boss, I own my hours, I work in a way that fits round the needs of my family and the needs of my clients, and this is something I am terrifically grateful for.
It was not always this way, and in my previous work-life, even with very flexible hours and an understanding employer, I still found myself regularly worrying about how I was going to take yet another day off work to look after the kids when the usual rounds of winter illnesses took hold? Tonsillitis, Norovirus, Chicken Pox, Tonsillitis, Scarlet Fever, Flu, Tonsillitis and on it goes.
Not everyone has an understanding employer, not everyone is confident to ask for the time they need off work, as a result, the pressure and stress this can place on family units at times of illness can be immense. Our school parents forum is littered with comments from working mums and dads, trying to figure out how not to take time off and still provide care for their kids (and not everyone has superhero grandparents to take over like I do!)
I would like to urge employers to be more open and proactive with your parental workforce during times of family illness. Lots of employees are completely unaware of their parental rights, that they are entitled to TOFD (time off for dependants) from day one of their employment, and that if they have been employed for 12 months or more, then they are entitled to unpaid parental leave (with 21 days notice, not great in emergencies, but great for hospital appointments and recovery time that can be planned in advance).
Many working parents wrongly assume they must use their own annual leave allocation, or call in 'sick' themselves in order to secure the needed time, which can result in demotivated and often exhausted staff in the long run. Parental Leave and TOFD is in place to support a workforce, to allow them to fulfil their duties and still function in the workplace without unnecessary stress. It is a valuable asset to staff and employers and should be more openly discussed and promoted.
What is the difference between Parental Leave and TOFD?
Time off for dependants is to deal with unexpected situations:
It is worth noting that there is no automatic right to be paid when taking time off to care for dependants. An employer can pay staff taking parental leave or TOFD if they choose to but there is no obligation on them to do so. The issue here however is rarely financial, it is the peace of mind required to know that when your house is going down by the nose, or when your children / dependants need support, there is a system in place to ensure your job is safe while you take care of your family.
For more information on Time Off For Dependants for parents and employers you can visit
For more information on Parental Leave for parents and employers you can visit
Founder of Sunshine Recruitment Solutions, Fellow of the Institute of Recruitment Professionals