With the holiday season in full swing, employers have been warned that giving priority to workers with families when it comes to the annual scramble to book time off could find themselves open to expensive discrimination claims.
A survey by pollster YouGov of more than 2,000 workers, commissioned by consultancy Croner, found more than six out of 10 organisations believed they should give priority for taking leave during the school holidays to those with children.
Croner then conducted its own online survey and found, out of 216 employers, nearly four out of 10 felt the same way.
While parents make up an estimated 40 per cent of the UK workforce, it is all too easy for employers to fall into the trap of believing it is best practice to offer first refusal for summer leave to parents.
But failing to treat all employees equally could lead to costly claims of direct and indirect discrimination, Richard Smith, HR consultant at Croner, warned.
"During the summer months most employees want to take time off, regardless of family commitments. To avoid a mass exodus of staff, employers are facing a dilemma over who should take priority when granting holiday requests," he said.
"But our survey suggests many are in danger of being 'too nice' to families, which could lead to sex discrimination claims that could critically impact the financial health of their organisation," he added.
Possible complaints could include accusations of bias in favour of female employees from male workers, as the role of looking after children still falls predominantly on women.
Croner has recommended that it is important that employers have a clear policy for granting holiday requests, that all employees should be treated equally but personal circumstances could be considered.
It is also a good idea to be clear that family commitments will not automatically grant an employee permission to take annual leave.
And when it comes to the tricky problem of several employees wishing to take holiday at the same time, it is important the policy explains clearly how decisions are arrived at.
This might be agreed on a first-come first-served basis, asking for volunteers to withdraw their request or random selection – either way employees need to know where they stand and why their request has been refused or agreed. Employers should not refuse holiday requests because of disciplinary reasons, which should be treated as a completely separate matter, Croner stressed
"Our message is clear – treat all employees equally. A best-practice employer will consider the personal circumstances of employees, but only on a case-by-case basis," said Smith.