How to manage work when your kids are ill

girl with tissue

girl with tissueJuggling the work/life balance is hard enough on a daily basis, but when your child is sick it can create a host of additional problems. Find out how to deal with the situation so you don’t end up out of work and out of pocket.


Having to explain that your child is ill again to your employer, taking unpaid leave and still paying the nursery or after-school club can all add to the stress and financial pressure faced by working parents.

But there are ways you can ease the situation and avoid taking a hit on your wallet…

What are your rights?

If you are an employee and have a sick child you have the right to take unpaid leave to deal with him or her.

Known as ‘time off to care for dependants’, you are allowed to miss work to deal with an emergency – which includes your child being ill or injured, or a childcare problem. You should be able to do this as many times as you need to, but every company has different policies on this issue and you may receive a warning if your employer believes you are doing it too often. Check your contract.

How much time can you take off?

You are allowed ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with a sick child or other dependant. This amount of time isn’t fixed, but should allow you to deal with the immediate problem and put other care arrangements in place.

For example, an employee would not normally be able to take two weeks off to care for a sick child, but could take one or two days to take the child to the doctor and arrange for someone else to look after him or her.

If you do need a long block of time off to care for your child, you will have to ask for parental leave instead. Submit your application in writing as soon as you can.

Will you be paid?

Some employers will pay you for time off to look after a sick child, but they don’t have to. Check your contract of employment.

You are not supposed to use your own paid sick leave to care for your child (though many parents do by pretending they are ill instead).

What if your employer says no?

If you are dismissed, made redundant or penalised for taking time off to care for your child, or if you are refused reasonable time off, you can complain to an employment tribunal.

Top tips to make caring for a sick child easier and less expensive

  • Ask your employer if you can work from home, or offer to take the time off as paid holiday.
  • If you are starting a new job, check your employer’s policy beforehand about taking time off if your children are sick. Some companies will expect you to use up your holiday leave when your child is ill.
  • Prepare things at work for colleagues to do in your absence, leaving a set of emergency instructions at your desk.
  • Find out if there are any flexi-time options available if you miss work, such as working overtime or at the weekend, to avoid losing pay.
  • Have reserve childcare arrangements in place, such as enlisting a family member or friend to step in at short notice.