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Most children should have returned to school this week, but after the Prime Minister’s announcement last night, it looks like homeschooling will be taking place until at least the February half-term. The impact of the pandemic on working parents therefore continues.

Parents / carers will therefore be expected to carry on working, often with no consideration being given to the fact that they may need to look after their children due to them being at home in accordance with the current rules, or indeed them falling ill.

So what are the options available?

Flexible Working

You can ask your employer to alter your working arrangements to allow you to continue to work and care for your child/children at the same time, or alternate/share the responsibility with your partner/spouse.  This could include allowing you to work from home (where possible) or altering your hours / days of work. 

The Government still maintain that employee’s should be allowed to work from home, where possible.  Many employers are going further than this by allowing staff to reduce their days, start work earlier, log on to do work in at weekends or in the evening so that they can balance home and work life better, in the current situation.

If you think this would be beneficial, the first step is to have a discussion with your employer to explain the situation.  Any agreement should then be recorded in writing so that there is no confusion as to what is expected and when, and should also be noted as a temporary arrangement only, perhaps for as long as schools and nurseries hours remain uncertain.

If your employer is being resistant, you do have the right to make a formal flexible working request.  This would be a permanent change to your working arrangements, unless agreed in writing that it is only on a temporary basis. 

Annual Leave

You can ask to use any accrued annual leave, to mean that you have days off each week, or that your working days are shorter.

Dependents’ Leave

You can request to a reasonable amount of time off where necessary for anyone who relies on you for care, to deal with unforeseen or emergency situations.  Children being sent home from school or nursery and older relatives not being able to help with childcare would fall into these categories.

Whilst it is normally taken for short periods of time, without any alternatives available at this present time, there is an argument to say that it should last as long as the child has to stay off school and other family members / friends cannot assist.  The leave can be taken for a few hours a day, or in blocks of time and should not be refused, given at present it is likely to be both reasonable and necessary for parents / carers to need the time off. 

This type of leave is usually unpaid unless your employer has a policy in place which provides for you to be paid. 

Parental Leave

Parental leave is available to all employees who have 1 years’ continuous service, who have children under 18 years of age.  You can take 4 weeks’ leave per child, per year and must be taken in blocks of 1 week. 

You must give 21 days’ notice (albeit this can be shorter by agreement) and unfortunately, unlike dependant’s leave, an employer can refuse a request for parental leave or postpone it where there would be disruption to their business if it were allowed.

Again, this type of leave is usually unpaid unless your employer has a policy in place which provides for you to be paid. 

Unpaid Leave

Some employers are agreeing that employees can take unpaid leave for as long as necessary in order to look after their children.  Your employment would continue throughout and the terms of the leave down to agreement with your employer, for example it may be paid/unpaid.

Sick Leave

If you or anyone you live with is suffering from or has symptoms of COVID-19 or have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111, you should self-isolate. 

From 13 March, employees and workers who are self-isolating must receive at least Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) from the first day they’re absent from work.  You may be entitled to enhanced sick pay if your employer has a policy in place which provides for the same.

Furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“the CJRS”)

The Government guidance makes it crystal clear that employees can request to be furloughed under the CJRS if they were unable to work due to childcare and/or caring commitments. Unfortunately though, whilst you can request to be furloughed, this is not an absolute right and an employer does not have to agree to the request.

Flexible furlough is also available whereby you can work (and be paid in full) for some of your normal working hours, and then be furloughed for others.

The rate of pay for any furloughed time will depend on whether your employer will “top up” the Government contribution to mean you are still receiving 100% of your salary, or whether your pay will be limited to Furlough Pay which is currently 80% of your usual salary up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

Most employers are being sensible and understanding, given that even they themselves appreciate that their employees are in this position through no fault of their own and have very few options available to them.  However, many employers are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, needing employees in work but knowing that many are struggling due to childcare commitments.  Communication is key in these cases, working together to find a solution that assists both parties.

That said, there are certain rogue employers who are not being helpful and whilst the above list highlights that there are options available, more certainty is needed as to the rights and protection of working parents / carers.  If your employer is refusing to consider alternatives for you at this time then we would suggest you take legal advice, given that they may be grounds for a grievance complaint to be raised or, in the worst cases, Tribunal claims, such as indirect sex discrimination or constructive dismissal. 

Your Enquiries

We ourselves are receiving updated information on a regular basis and will be keeping this page as current as possible. If you cannot find the information you need here, please contact our employment team or call 0161 930 5151 with more details (please note we are receiving a high number of enquiries at this current time).

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