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Tilern DeBique said she was forced to leave the forces because she was expected to be available for duty at all times. However, a tribunal ruled she was within her rights to miss training when she could not find anyone to look after her daughter and is expected to receive a payment of at least £100,000 for loss of earnings, injury to feelings and aggravated damages and the ruling could yet have significant implications for the armed forces.
Miss DeBique was disciplined after failing to appear on parade after she had no-one to look after her daughter and wanted to bring her half-sister from St Vincent to the UK as a live-in carer. She was told that immigration rules meant the foreign relative could only enter the country as a visitor and could not stay for longer than six months.
She quit the army after seven years as she felt she would have been dismissed. The Employment Tribunal believed the Army should have made appropriate childcare arrangements for Miss Debique especially after its costly recruitment drive in the Caribbean. It ruled that the Army had treated Miss DeBique less favourably than male soldiers and her non-Foreign and Commonwealth counterparts.
What does this mean for me?
As an employer, you need to have clears policies and procedures in place for dealing with issues such as emergency time off for dependents. It is important to look at each case individually, and do not automatically take formal disciplinary action.
Remember, time off for dependents is to allow your employee the time to make alternative child care arrangements. You do have the right to request they make their time up later, or work a shift that suits business requirements. For example, if you operate various shift patterns and an employee calls you to advise they cannot make it in due to child being ill, and they were due to work a day shift that day, it is perfectly reasonable to request they work a later shift providing they can make alternative child care arrangements, for instance a partner or relative can take care of the child in the afternoon or evening.
You should treat both male and female employees equally, and the same for full and part time staff. If the time off becomes excessive, then you could take formal disciplinary action but it is extremely important to establish the specific reasons for the time off, and explore what other options are available for the employee.
If you are a smaller business, you will not be expected to make child care arrangements for your staff in the way the tribunal has ruled in this case with the Army, but you will be expected to demonstrate a degree of reasonability in how you deal with each case.
If you need employment law advice, or guidance on how to implement these changes in your workplace, please contact us on 0800 612 4772 or get a Free Quote for HR Services via our website.