Section 33: Balancing work and personal life

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33.1 A positive work/life balance benefits both NHS employees through improved health and wellbeing, and employers as staff are more productive and satisfied at work. Employers should have a strategic response to this issue and any policies supporting work/life balance should be agreed in partnership and should seek to balance the requirements of delivering a first-class service with the needs of employees.
33.2. Key to achieving work life balance is the provision and availability of flexible working opportunities. Flexible working can be an effective means of supporting staff as part of a wider commitment by the NHS to improve the quality of working life. It also supports the retention of existing staff including those returning to work after maternity leave
33.3 In addition NHS employers should provide employees with access to leave arrangements which recognise the additional personal commitments staff may have. This form of leave should cover a wide range of needs including, but not limited to, parental responsibilities, carer’s leave, time off for dependants, personal and family reasons, civic/public duties, domestic crisis/emergencies e.g. fire/flooding, being the victim of crime (including hate crime) and bereavement. It should take into account all religious or belief obligations and associated activities. All forms of leave should have regard to legal requirements and the need to ensure equity of access across all protected characteristics.
Flexible working arrangements
33.4 All NHS employees have the ‘right to request’ flexible working. Policies should emphasise the benefits of flexible working arrangements, balancing work and personal life and employment breaks (section 34)
33.5 In considering the provisions of this section employers should also have regard to the provisions in Sections 2 (England and Wales) or Section 2 (Scotland and Northern Ireland), Maintaining round the clock services and Annex 29: Principles for harmonised on-call arrangements.
33.6 Employers are required to consider flexible working options for all staff in the workplace, for example:
  • staff with a disability and staff with health conditions;
  • staff returning to work following maternity/paternity leave, parental leave, adoption leave or Shared Parental Leave;
  • staff in need of temporary changes to their employment arrangements, for example, following a domestic crisis, bereavement or sickness absence.
  • staff with caring responsibilities
33.7 The UK population is ageing and the number of people living with long term conditions is increasing. NHS employers are likely to see the number of employees requesting to work flexibly grow as its own workforce ages and these employees are supported to stay in work.
33.8 New working arrangements should only be introduced by mutual agreement, whether sought by the employee or the employer.
33.9 Policies for flexible working should be made clear to all employees. Flexible working arrangements should be available to all employees. All jobs should be considered for flexible working; if this is not possible the employer must provide written, objectively justifiable reasons for this and give a clear, demonstrable operational reason why this is not practicable. Employees have a right to appeal the decision. 
33.10 Employers should develop policies on flexible working which, as far as is practicable, should include:
  • part-time working, where a person works to a pattern and number of hours by mutual agreement;
  • job sharing, where two or more people share the responsibilities of one or more fulltime job(s), dividing the hours, duties and pay between them;
  • flexi-time, where employees can choose their own start and finish time around fixed core hours;
  • annual hours contracts, where people work a specific number of hours each year, with the hours being unevenly distributed throughout the year.
  • flexible rostering, using periods of work of differing lengths within an agreed overall period;
  • compressed hours, where employees work their total number of agreed hours over fewer working days for example compressing a five day working week into four days
  • term-time working, where people work during the school term but not during school holidays;
  • school-time contracts;
  • tele-working, where people work from home for all or part of their hours with a computer or telecommunication link to their organisation;
  • voluntary reduced working time, where people work reduced hours by agreement at a reduced salary;
  • fixed work patterns where, by agreement, days off can be irregular to enable, for example, separated parents to have access to their children and flexible rostering;
  • flexible retirement depending on the pension scheme of the individual staff member.
  • varieties of shift patterns that enable the service to balance its need as well as allow staff to have a work life balance.
33.11 There should be a clear procedure for application for flexible working, agreed by employers and local staff representatives. Employers should make reference to the ACAS Code of Practice and guidance in this respect which can be found at
33.12 All people with flexible working arrangements should have access to standard terms and conditions of employment, on an equal or pro-rata basis, unless different treatment can be justified for operational reasons. Working hours should be compliant with the Working Time Directive (WTD).
Supporting Carers
33.13 All NHS employers must have a carer’s policy to address the needs of people with caring responsibilities and to meet the requirements of the ‘right to request’ flexible working legislation for carers of children and dependant adults (see Employment Relations Act for
definition of ‘carer’). This policy should emphasise the benefits of flexible working arrangements, balancing work and personal life and employment breaks (section 34)
33.14 A carer’s policy will cover both child and dependant care.
33.15 Childcare covers a range of care choices for children from birth up to age 14 years and a child with disabilities up to the age of 18 years.
33.16 Dependant care covers a range of options to meet the needs of dependant adults including the needs of dependant young people over the age of 14, where an employee is involved in substantial and regular care sufficient for them to seek a change in their permanent contract of employment.
33.17 Dependant care should also cover (but not be restricted to) care of older relatives, a civil partner, spouse, or a partner, those with a disability who may require hospital or care appointments/assessments and such related matters. 
33.18 The policy should be drawn up jointly between employers and local staff side representatives. This should cover:
  • the needs of those with caring responsibilities relative to matters such as place of work, working patterns (including shift patterns) and hours worked;
  • support for those with caring responsibilities particularly related to specific difficulties in recruiting and retaining people in certain job categories;
  • equality of access to care and affordability, respecting the diversity of personal domestic circumstances;
  • guidelines on eligibility;
  • how the policy relates to other sections in this part, in particular those covering leave and flexible working arrangements;
  • the range of options open to carers, i.e. crèche facilities, childminders, workplace nurseries, allowances, school and holiday play schemes, term-time contracts,  home working, annualised hours, compressed hours, and other options as outlined in flexible working arrangements. The policy should be clear as to why certain options are available;
  • partnership options with other employers and trades unions;
  • allocation of senior management responsibility for the operation and monitoring of the policy.
33.19 Where a decision is taken not to offer particular forms of support, the policy should indicate where other arrangements are available to help people with caring responsibilities, and what alternative ways of working exist. In addition, employees have the right to appeal against the decision.
33.20 Applications and outcomes should be monitored annually, in partnership with local staff representatives.  
33.21 Monitoring information should be analysed and used to review and revise policies and procedures to ensure their continuing effectiveness.
33.22 Applications and outcomes, from both employer and employees, should be recorded and kept for a minimum of one year.
Other forms of leave
33.23 When developing local arrangements for other forms of leave they are based on the principles of equity of access and communication, they should be wide ranging, facilitative and ensure no detriment for pay progression.
Parental leave
33.24 This should be a separate provision from either maternity or maternity support (paternity) leave, adoption leave (see section 15), and Shared Parental Leave (SPL), and should provide a non-transferable individual right to at least 18 weeks’ leave. Leave is normally unpaid, but may be paid by local agreement.
33.25 Parental leave should be applicable to any employee in the NHS who has nominated caring responsibility for a child under the age of 18.
33.26 Leave arrangements need to be as flexible as possible, so that the leave may be taken in a variety of ways, by local agreement. Parental leave can be added to periods of maternity support (paternity) leave, maternity leave, adoption leave, and Shared Parental Leave.
33.27 Notice periods should not be unnecessarily lengthy and should reflect the period of leave required. Employers should only postpone leave in exceptional circumstances and give written reasons. Employees may also postpone or cancel leave that has been booked with local agreement.
33.28 During parental leave the employee retains all of his/her contractual rights, except remuneration and should return to the same job after it. Pension rights and contributions shall be dealt with in accordance with NHS Superannuation Regulations. Periods of parental leave should be regarded as continuous service.
33.29 It is good practice for employers to maintain contact (within agreed protocols) with employees while they are on parental leave.
Shared Parental Leave
33.30 Information on shared parental leave in the NHS can be found at Section 15. 
33.31 Staff not eligible for occupational shared parental pay may be entitled to statutory pay during shared parental leave. To qualify for statutory pay the employee and their partner must first meet certain qualifying conditions as described in the relevant legislation. Details of the qualifying conditions can be found on the
Leave/time off for domestic reasons, civic/public duties
33.32 This form of leave should cover a range of needs as described at the beginning of this section, from domestic emergencies through to bereavement/compassionate leave (see below).
33.34 These provisions should cover all employees.
33.35 Payment may be made by local agreement, but the expectation is that relatively short periods of leave for emergencies will be paid.
33.36 If the need for time off continues, other options may be considered, such as a career break.
33.37 Applicants for the above forms of leave should be entitled to a written explanation if the application is declined.
33.38 Appeals against decisions to decline an application for leave should be made through the grievance procedure.
Bereavement/compassionate leave
33.39 Bereavement/compassionate leave is leave that is granted to an employee if they experience the bereavement of a dependant. Also see Section 23.
33.40 Employees have a statutory right from day one of their employment to bereavement/compassionate leave.
33.41 Policies developed in partnership with local staff side representatives should entitle employees to paid bereavement/compassionate leave including for funeral/memorial services taking into account all religious or belief obligations. The policy should be used in conjunction with other relevant policies for example sickness absence and flexible working.
See section 15 regarding statutory legislation for employees who suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks.
Monitoring and review
33.42 Employers will need to ensure that their leave policies and procedures regarding balancing work and personal life operate fairly and transparently and do not advantage any group of staff over another.
33.43 All applications and outcomes should be recorded, and records should cover all information necessary to ensure that there is equitable access to leave provisions. Each leave provision, including applications for and decisions about, should be reviewed annually by employers in partnership with local staff representatives.
33.44 Applications and outcomes should be recorded and monitored in partnership with local staff side representatives, and data analysed and used to review and revise policies and procedures to ensure their continuing effectiveness and equity of access.

Pay circular (AforC): 1/2019 amendment number 40

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