Time off to attend Christmas performances

This time of year, music and drama departments in schools around the country are at their busiest, putting on performances to celebrate the festive season. So it should not come as a surprise that some of your employees will requests time off to enjoy their children’s school plays or concerts. How many requests you receive will depend on the make up of your workforce; many schools will make provision for working parents with multiple performances on different days and evening events to give parents and other relatives flexibility.

When it comes to time off for Christmas performances, requests will probably be for a few hours perhaps up to half a day. This may be manageable for employers, unless of course all requests are for the same morning or afternoon and this impacts on business delivery. Having said that, Christmas school events generally come with some degree of advance notice and may be planned for to avoid impact on the business.

There is no obligation for employers to grant paid time off for school events, as these would not be covered under the right to reasonable time off for dependants. The latter only provides for emergencies which involve arranging care for dependants who are ill or where the care provision has broken down. School plays, although involving dependants, are unlikely to be considered emergencies.

The CIPD reported in 2019 that 10% of employers gave paid leave to parents to attend a school event, like a nativity play in 2018. In general terms, there are several options to deal with the time off:

  • Unpaid leave, which means that the employee will lose the pay for the hours they are not in work;
  • Discretionary paid leave if this is affordable (which can be capped for example to 2-3 hours or a half-day if the employer is more generous);
  • Taking some of their annual leave entitlement, which for practical purposes may need to be expressed in hours; or
  • Allowing the employee to make up the hours at another time to be agreed (this may be more practicable for those working from home or on agile work patterns).

Whichever option or options the employer decides to offer, it is important that these are applied consistently and fairly. Being a seasonal occurrence, it is possible to plan ahead and, as a minimum let employees know what they need to do to request leave (including giving as much notice as possible) and what options they have in terms of any pay for the time off.  Some employers may even have a policy for such eventualities, which may extend to similar events throughout the year. One thing to bear in mind is to try and offer some Christmas flexibility to other employees who are not parents or grandparents and to alert managers to keep an eye on and sensitively manage any sign of conflict arising from the Christmas arrangements.

A decisions to not grant the time off at all, however strong the business reasons might be, is only to be taken in exceptional circumstances where there is a significant risk to business health. Such decisions will likely cause unhappiness and will probably impact on engagement, productivity and staff morale, at least in the short term.

If you need any assistance with your leave policies, please contact the Employment Team.

As we continue the second half of our series, tomorrow’s offering will turn to the weather and other unforeseen reasons preventing employees from attending work.

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