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Should it be illegal for an employer to deny a childcare request if it stops someone starting a job?

17 Aug, 2023

I have been a single parent of two children, and have been on Universal Credit for a number of years now.

After over 10 years of searching for a job in my chosen field, I was over the moon, when I recently learned that I was successful in a job that I recently applied for in it. The job was part-time which was even better for me, especially since I haven’t been in paid employment for over ten years, so I thought it would be a great way for me to ease my way back into the workplace, and also a good opportunity for me to work around my children, at least until my youngest got a bit older, and more independent.

As the job was in a care home setting, it depended on a DBS check. My DBS took three months to complete, and once it had come through (which was on a Friday) my boss asked me if I could start work the following Monday. As this only gave me the weekend to organize childcare for my 7 year old son, I asked my boss, for a weeks grace, so that I could make some emergency short-term childcare arrangements for the school-run, I thought that it wouldn’t be an issue becausewe would have had to wait the extra week had my DBS not come through anyhow.

However, to my surprise and dismay, instead of my boss being understanding and empathetic by granting me the extra week off before my start date, she was totally the opposite! and in fact, sent me a very rotten email giving me the ultimatum, telling me that she had ‘concerns’ that I wouldn’t be able to commit to the role, and that I needed to reassure her that I would be able to do so, otherwise she would ‘withdraw the verbal job offer’ that she had previously given to me if I didn’t.

I was worried about how this would affect my standing with Universal Credit, because I was petrified that if I couldn’t secure childcare over the weekend that I had, and therefore lost the job, because I couldn’t reassure my boss that I could start work the following Monday, I then asked myself - would I be able to get my full Universal Credit amount back again? or would I be seen by them as ‘giving up a job voluntarily’ and therefore penalized by them because of it?

Fortunately for me, my second child is a teenage daughter, but she had just finished doing her A levels, and had also booked a train to visit friends and family in London that she hadn’t seen for a while. However, when I told her about the situation I had just been placed in, as well as show her the email from my boss, she became really concerned, and actually burst into tears, and because she also didn’t want me to lose this job opportunity, she canceled all of her plans to travel, as well as lose the money she had paid for the train tickets to London, so that she could help me out with the childcare issue. I was so grateful for her help, and know for a fact that, I wouldn’t have been able to start the job, had she not stepped in at the last minute to help.

As a result of the ultimatum that I was placed in by my boss, I did send her an email to ask what her ‘concerns’ about me not being able to carry out my role was based on, since, I only asked for a weeks grace to sort out childcare, and clearly indicated to her when I made my request, that my childcare issue was not long term, and that I only had the issue because my son’s father was away that week. Surely, her ‘concerns’ could not have been based on anything else since I hadn’t even started the job at that stage as yet - but I am yet to receive a reply about it.

It is also quite ironic that this job is in the ‘Care’ sector, yet, it has been the only sector that I have worked in, where I have received the least amount of care from my bosses!

What shocked me the most is the fact that my boss is also a single mother with 2 teenage daughters, which I thought would make her a lot more understanding, and empathetic when I made my childcare request. In retrospect, I have often thought that perhaps she lacked understanding and empathy towards my situation because she may well have had a lot more support around her when her children were growing up.

My experience has left me questioning whether it should be illegal for employers to give parents with caring responsibilities such an ultimatum if they are having childcare issues before they start employment? Surely, employers should not just think of the businesses needs as being of utmost importance when employing someone, as they should also consider the needs/welfare of the employee too, at the start of any form of employment in my opinion, and, if this is proven to not be the case (as was the case with me),employers should be made liable for causing someone who is already vulnerable, to be made even more vulnerable, and potentially lose their job, just because they made a childcare request.

Written by

Dotty G

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