Employers can put in place a range of benefits that will support parents in the workplace. It’s common for employees to need extra help or flexibility when they return to work as parents, during their employment or when they join a new employer with children or caring responsibilities.
An employer has several different options to look at and can pick from a suite of options to support parents. It’s also sensible for them to know where to signpost employees to get the best support.
Tax free childcare
Parents with children aged 11 or under, who meet the eligibility criteria, can now join the scheme by accessing the Government’s tax-free childcare website. The scheme works by topping up every £8 you pay by an extra £2. In effect, you are recovering back your 20% basic tax rate. An employee can receive up to £2,000 per year. This isn’t necessarily an employer scheme such as childcare vouchers – which started to be phased out in 2017 – however, it’s important for employers to be aware of the scheme and advertise it.
Free childcare hours
There are also free childcare hours offered by the Government and this is currently under review. The budget in 2023 sought to extend the benefit of free childcare hours. Currently, your child must be three or four years of age and all parents will be eligible to 15 free hours of childcare each week. This childcare must be provided by an approved childcare provider. However, if you meet the additional eligibility criteria you will also have a top up of 15 hours per week. This benefit is going to be significantly extended in coming years, so that the additional 15 free hours with be available to any family with a child over nine months old (subject to eligibility). We are waiting for final details of this scheme, but it is anticipated to phase in from April 2024.
Work location and hours
The most common request that an employer needs to deal with is around flexibility for parents with the location and hours they work. Since the pandemic, we have found that many parents like the flexibility of homeworking. Equally, it may be that an employer would like flexible hours, so they have the ability to flex around childcare commitments.
Employer enhanced parental leave
Some employers also provide enhanced parental leave schemes. The basic parental leave entitlement under the law provides for 18 weeks of parental leave whilst there is a child under 18. This leave is unpaid. The basic legal entitlement is that the leave must be taken in blocks of a week and generally no more than four weeks per year. However, some employers decide to enhance this scheme to allow further flexibility among their staff. This may mean allowing parents to take a few days at a time or more than four weeks in a year. It may be that they provide some pay for a limited amount of parental leave a year.
There are also specific schemes to help parents in their attempts to gain promotion or to change roles. Coaching and mentoring aimed at those who are parents is a growing trend among businesses. It’s important to remember that parents can be dedicated to their careers as long as they given the appropriate flexibility. Having role models within your business who are parents and ensuring that they can take the time to care for their children demonstrates support to the whole workforce staff.
Workplace based childcare or child activities
Finally, and only in limited exceptions, some employers do provide crèche facilities or alternatively subsidise childcare. This might be an onsite nursery or preschool, but it could equally be subsidised holiday clubs etc. An employer would need to be of a certain size to make this financially viable and have enough parents who would take advantage of it. However, on a small scale, most employers could run some form of social activity that would involve parents and their children and this could be seen as a real benefit by staff.
In summary, there are a number of flexible options that employers can consider to improve the support of parents in the workplace.
Claire Merritt is a partner in the employment team at Paris Smith solicitors