Nearly 60 per cent of working parents could be spending up to £1,800 a year unnecessarily on childcare cover after research found that a staggering 41 per cent are unaware of their legal right to take unpaid parental leave to care for their children.
Additionally, in relation to the above figure, a huge 75 per cent admit to never having taken advantage of this unpaid parental leave entitlement.
Research also found that a further 27 per cent will be splashing out this Summer on holiday club fees of up to £800.
Unpaid parental leave is available to any employee who has been with the same employer for a year or more so parents can take more time off to care for their child, in addition to their agreed annual holiday leave. It can be taken for up to four weeks a year, in blocks of one week, to a maximum of 18 weeks for each child before they turn 18.
The research polled an equal split of 1,500 working fathers and mothers with children under 18 and who have been with the same employer for at least a year.
Nearly half unaware of their rights
The findings revealed that nearly half of workers aren’t even aware of how many weeks they are entitled to take off each year under unpaid parental leave.
Half of fathers neither know about this employment right, nor how much time they are allowed off compared to 32 per cent and 38 per cent of mums.
More mothers than fathers have exercised their right to unpaid parental leave yet overall, take up of this entitlement remains low at just 25 per cent. Interestingly, only 6 per cent of working parents have taken shared parental leave.
Parents will be leaning on friends & family this Summer
A significant lack of awareness around unpaid leave means a huge 41 per cent of working mums and dads will be leaning on friends and family this Summer for childcare cover while 27 per cent will be spending up to £800 on holiday clubs, alone.
For the entire year, 57 per cent will spend between £50 and £450 a week on childcare from nannies, nurseries to ‘after school’ clubs, which works out to a saving of between £200 – £1,800 a year for parents that exert their right to four weeks unpaid parental leave a year.
Fear time off will impact career
Poor uptake in unpaid parental leave may not just be down to a lack of awareness. Nearly half of men and 31 per cent of women worry how taking unpaid leave, such as to care for a child or a sick family member, may impact their career.
Moreover, 39 per cent are concerned that taking extra unpaid time off, in addition to other statutory leave allowances, will be perceived negatively by their employer and colleagues.
A staggering 63 per cent said they could not see themselves taking advantage of the Conservative Government’s proposal for up to a year’s unpaid leave to care for a sick family member, such as an elderly parent, either now or in the future – although, more women than men say that they would make use of this entitlement.
Beverley Sunderland, Managing Director of Crossland Employment Solicitors said, “Our research found that 41 per cent of working parents will have to rely on friends and family this Summer to care for their children because they say there’s a real lack of affordable childcare available, yet the same number of parents have no idea about unpaid parental leave.
“Employers need to be more open and transparent with workers about their unpaid leave entitlements as well as creating a culture that encourages employees to take leave rather than it being perceived as something that could damage their career. Unpaid leave allows eligible parents time off to look after their child’s welfare for example, to spend more time with their children and the family, to look for new schools, or to settle children into new childcare arrangements. Their employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) remain protected.
“Whilst there’s no obligation to advise employees of their right to unpaid parental leave, it is in the employer’s best interest to support working parents where they can, so they can maintain a happy work/life balance.”
The research also revealed that some workers are strongly in favour of extending statutory unpaid leave beyond just time off for children and family.
The researchers polled an additional 500 workers who did not have children. Over half, of which 67 per cent of these were women, felt that the law for unpaid time off work should also cover time to care for pets for example, to settle a new pet into a home, or to care for them when they’re sick.
Added Beverley, “Extending statutory leave for employees to care for a sick relative, pet and now, child bereavement leave as set out in the Conservative Government’s most recent election manifesto, is a good idea. A quarter of workers are off with stress every year so employment laws and company initiatives that help relieve workers from the pressures of life, can only be a positive step.”