The information in this blog is correct as at 7 April 2020. For the most up-to-date Employment Law and Health & Safety advice to support your organisation through the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Advice Hub, which is updated daily and contains a variety of free guidance notes, letter templates, checklists, risk assessments and more.
Juggling work and parenthood is hard at the best of times, but with schools now shut and government instructions to work from home wherever possible, working parents will have a real challenge on their hands during COVID-19.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 4.6 million households in the UK with dependent children aged under 16 years where all parents in the household are working. Of these, 842,000 are lone-parent households, where the strain of balancing work and family life will be even greater. Whatever the situation, it is estimated that school closures could affect one in seven workers in the UK.
Of course, as an employer, you will want to be as flexible as possible with staff who now find themselves in the difficult position of trying to manage the demands of their role on top of their new homeschooling responsibilities. At the same time, it’s likely that you will need all hands on deck to keep things ticking over during this period of upheaval, which means finding ways to balance the needs of your staff with the needs of your business.
So, what does the law say? What options are available to employers if staff need time off to look after children or other family members who depend on them for care?
Under UK employment law, all employees, regardless of their length of service, are entitled to take a reasonable amount of time off work in order to deal with emergencies and unforeseen matters involving dependants, such as the recent school closures. Typically, any such leave will be unpaid, but you should check the terms of the employee’s contract in case this provides an entitlement to pay.
It’s important to note that employees have a right to time off to arrange care, not provide care. As such, it is usually limited to 24 to 48 hours, though this will depend on the circumstances. In the context of COVID-19, arranging childcare may prove more difficult than usual, as government guidelines state that people should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.
As such, if:
- An employee needs to take more than two days off; and
- The reason for them taking time off is to care for a child or relative rather than to make arrangements for their care,
you may need to find another way to accommodate their request.
Your options as an employer
Some possible options in these circumstances include:
Are these employees eligible for furlough?
The guidance suggests that employers can only furlough staff “if you cannot maintain your current workforce because your operations have been severely affected by coronavirus”. As such, our view is that employees affected by school closure do not, by this token alone, qualify to be furloughed unless there is no work for them to do. In other words, the question to ask is whether the employee would be furloughed under usual circumstances if they reported for work.
Things to keep in mind
This is a particularly stressful time for everyone involved. As such, working with employees to find mutually agreeable solutions – where possible – will help to reduce anxiety and ensure the stability of your team over the coming weeks and months.
It’s important to keep in mind that any positive action you take now will likely be remembered by employees for years to come, so if you are able to be flexible, you may reap the benefits in terms of engagement and retention.
Of course, if you’re simply not able to accommodate employee’s requests due to the impact on your business, it’s best to seek specialist Employment Law advice. This will allow you to properly assess your options and make informed, commercial decision regarding your workforce.
Relieve COVID-19 employment stress
With so many new workforce challenges to overcome, this is a particularly stressful time for employers everywhere. From the rules surrounding furlough to managing absences, you will likely have many questions surrounding the implications of COVID-19 and the options available to you that will cause the least disruption to your business.