PTO priorities | Should working parents get first refusal on holiday time?

Should working parents get first refusal on holiday time?

Should working parents automatically get precedence, when allocating holiday, over their childless colleagues? It’s an age-old debate that once again hit headlines this week, after a post from the forum Mumsnet went viral, causing uproar and several controversial counter posts.

In the post, titled ‘Am I being unreasonable?’, the anonymous individual stated that she and her colleague recently requested Christmas day off, yet were told that one of the pair would have to work a morning shift on the 25th.

The poster automatically assumed that, given her colleague did not have children, she should be morally entitled to the time off, and went as far as to note that if her colleague didn’t yield, she’d actually quit the job altogether.

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"I have asked her to withdraw her request as she and her husband, who have no kids, normally go to her husband's parents on Christmas day. But they also go every week, so it's not like they never see them whereas I, on the other hand, have a four-year-old Autistic son,” the poster wrote.

Whilst replies to the post were divided, many were seemingly infuriated by the assumption that working parents should automatically gain priority over annual leave days. "Oh yeah I forgot! If you don’t have children then Christmas and family means absolutely nothing to you," wrote one user.

"Whoever requested it off first should have it. You can’t just say people with children have a right to Christmas over people without. It’s not her fault you have childcare issues, sorry. You can ask her nicely but she’s not bound to agree," added another.

HR ethics & working parents

This case is far from an isolated incident. Even in companies that embrace flexible working,
childcare is the number one concern for working parents within the UK, according to data from charity Pregnant Then Screwed.

The data found that 72% of parents have had to work fewer hours because of childcare issues. Around 81% of respondents said they need childcare to be able to work, but over half (51%) do not have the necessary childcare in place to enable them to do their job.

Around holiday periods such as summer break and Christmas, it’s clear to see why working parents believe they should take precedence over their childless colleagues.

So, should HR give special treatment to working parents, and indeed favour them for annual leave requests or flexible shift work around their child care needs? From a legal standpoint, there is no precedence for this.

Although the Working Time Regulations 1998 instructs that all employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid leave a year, managers are under no obligation to accept all leave requests. It is down to the discretion of the employer when their workforce takes annual leave, meaning HR is well within its rights to refuse a parent’s request for leave over the summer and under no expectation to prioritise this over a colleague’s.

This chimes with the advice of Peter Done, Chief Executive of Peninsula, who recently told the FT that ethically, there’s an expectation for HR and employers to employ the ‘first come first serve’ rule.

“Business owners should ensure that no employee is receiving preferential treatment. A strong ‘first come, first served’ rule should be implemented, ensuring an open and fair policy that allows all employees the chance to request leave for the same period,” Done said.

“From here, employees with young families could be strongly encouraged to make their requests as early as possible or risk disappointment,” he added.

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