Taking time off work to be with your child when they are sick, attending hospital appointments or receiving treatment as an in-patient, can be a struggle. Many parents or carers can’t afford to give up their job, but find it a challenge to keep working alongside their caring responsibilities.

If you are employed, the first step is to look at your Staff Handbook or talk to your organisation’s Human Resources staff. You may have a legal right to take time off work in particular circumstances under your contract, and you may also be able to request a change in your work pattern to help you combine your work and caring responsibilities. Here are the main options:

Planned time off using ‘parental leave’

As well as paid ‘annual leave’, parents may have the option of ‘parental leave’, which is usually unpaid. To qualify, parents must have worked for an employer continuously for one year and must give at least 21 days’ notice. Your employer may ask you to postpone your leave if it is harmful to their business.

Parents must use the time to care for their child and not for anything else. The maximum amount of parental leave a parent can take for any one child in one year is usually four weeks. However your employer might allow you to take more.

Parents of disabled children can take leave in multiples of one day, unlike other parents who must take the leave in blocks of one or more weeks. This means you could use parental leave for regular hospital visits. Both parents have a separate right to parental leave. Overall each parent can take at least 18 weeks’ unpaid leave for each child before they are 18 years old, whether or not they are disabled.

Like to know more? Visit GOV.UK for government guidelines.

During an emergency – ‘Time off for dependents’

You can use ‘time off for dependents’ as a short term measure to respond to an emergency relating to a ‘dependent’ such as your child. This is usually unpaid. For example, you might use it if your child was suddenly unwell, or if a nurse or carer failed to turn up. The amount of time you take must be ‘reasonable’ so it should only cover the time needed to make an alternative arrangement. You cannot take time off for a dependent to deal with a situation that you already knew about or planned. For planned time off you will need to use parental or annual leave. Find out more.

Flexible working

In most jobs you have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements if your child is under 17 (or under 18 and disabled) and if you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks.

You might request a change such as working part time, working school hours, working from home, job sharing, or compressing hours, where you work your total number of agreed hours over fewer days. Employers may not agree to your proposal, but they must follow a set process and consider each request seriously. They are only able to refuse the request when there is a clear business reason.

Find out more about flexible working.

For information from Citizens Advice, visit their website.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed and run your own business, make sure you check what benefits you are entitled to. See our page on Benefits and other sources of help.