Neil Buck: Parents taking holidays only during school holidays can be an employers nightmare

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The Supreme Court decision last week means that, for now at least, children should not be taken out of school during term time (unless there are exceptional circumstances) and that parents, aka perhaps also employees, must follow the child’s school policy on attendance.

Ironically, it’s the Easter school holidays at the moment and most working parents will now be juggling their work responsibilities with their parental duties and generally doing their best to please everyone in the process. Unless they have gone away to Florida for the entire two weeks!

Just in case you weren’t aware of the case – Mr Platt, who took his daughter on a seven-day family trip to Florida in April 2015 without the school’s permission, was prosecuted by Isle of Wight Council after he refused to pay a £120 penalty.

The High Court had cleared Mr Platt of failing to ensure his daughter attended school regularly, as required by section 444 (1) of the Education Act 1996.

But in the latest decision, five justices unanimously allowed an appeal by education chiefs against an earlier ruling that Platt had not acted unlawfully and declared that Parliament’s intention was that the word “regularly” means “in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school”.

As a result, the case will now return to the magistrates’ court as a result of the decision.

No surprise really – it was never going to find in favour of Platt otherwise it would have effectively given the green light to parents to do what they want, when they want, flying in the face of the political reasoning for the rule in the first place.

So, what’s this got to do with HR?

Basically, this means that parents who are also employees are still effectively restricted to taking their holiday with their children in any of the 13 weeks school holidays each year.

I sympathise. This is a tricky situation all round.

As a parent myself and also a local primary academy governor I can see it from both sides.

Of course, attending school as much as possible is vitally important and yet I would like cheaper priced holiday like the rest of the parents out there, or at least not be fined if I decide to go away during term time to take advantage of a cheaper holiday.

But if we all did what we wanted it would be chaos and the children would suffer in the long run.

In my professional capacity as an HR consultant I know how hard it can be for employers to manage holidays for their staff who are also parents to school age children.

The window of opportunity remains narrow to take holidays which means that juggling competing employees’ requirements for the same time off can be very tricky.

Another thing that can cause real tension is parents versus non-parents wanting the same time off and parents getting preferential treatment from the employer.

Should parents always trump non-parents in the battle of holiday request?

What can an employer do to help the situation?

Have a well-documented and communicated holiday policy and holiday requesting procedure, with clear rules to set expectations, is a must have so everyone is treated as fairly as possible.

If allocation of time off is on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, then those quick off the mark should benefit. But that may not always be the fairest way as parents will probably be more organised and attempt to book them well in advance at the start of the employers holiday year to ensure they can take the time off to look after their children or indeed go on holiday at a time when they can and should.

Perhaps this is where some management discretion may be adopted as well as creativity to try and keep everyone happy e.g. instead, you might want to consider pulling names out of a hat or rotating who gets to be off each year.

That means being flexible and fair to the recognised, competing needs of the workforce.

Another worthwhile thing to consider is permitting staff to share or at least have access to the holiday calendar, whether on an individual, department or across the whole organisation basis, so they can see before requesting their holiday what the likelihood of it being accepted or not will be.

This will enable employees to take personal responsibility for avoiding holiday clashes with their colleagues and sorting it out themselves before they even out the request in.

So, during school holiday time an employer must balance and juggle the competing interests for the same time off as well as trying to maintain good working relations between the parties all whilst actually trying to maintain productivity and profits! Who said employing people was easy?

Happy holidays?!