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Working during school closures

Home schooling through Covid-19

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

On Monday 4 January 2021, the Prime Minister announced that schools and colleges are to be closed to most pupils until at least half term in February. This last-minute change has, understandably, worried parents and employers.

What are the options for parents?

Continue to use “childcare bubbles” (for children under the age of 14) or “support bubbles”.

Work from home while balancing childcare responsibilities.

  • Whether this is feasible will depend on factors such as how old your children are and what other childcare support you do have available.
  • Interestingly, the latest government guidance states that employers should take “every possible step” to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT equipment. Parents may wish to refer to this when discussing childcare with their employer; however, this is guidance and so (technically) there is no legal requirement placed on the employer.

Request to be placed on full furlough or flexible furlough.

  • Employers can furlough workers where they are unable to work due to childcare or other caring responsibilities, even if there is sufficient work for them to do.
  • Despite pressure from the Trade Union Congress (TUC), there is still no express obligation on employers to furlough parents affected by school closures. There is no automatic right to furlough.

Request a variation to contractual working hours.

  • This could include a reduction in hours but also an agreement to condensed hours, and changes could be temporary or permanent.
  • Any change should be agreed between the employer and the worker.
    Employers should not unilaterally impose changes.
  • If this cannot be agreed with the employer informally, employees with 26 weeks’ service can make a formal written request for flexible working. However, technically, an employer would have 3 months to respond anyway.

Request Annual Leave

  • This may be a preferable option where a sustained period on furlough (which is paid at 80% wages unless topped up by the employer) is not desirable for the worker.

Request Dependents’ Leave

  • No set maximum entitlement as entitlement is to reasonable time off to deal with an emergency.
  • Usually unpaid, but the employer’s policy may be more generous.
  • It does not matter how long the employee has worked for the employer.

Request Parental Leave

  • Maximum of 18 weeks’ leave entitlement in total per child up to their 18th
  • Usually up to 4 weeks’ leave can be taken per child per year (unless the employer agrees otherwise).
  • Usually unpaid, but the employer’s policy may be more generous.
  • Employees must have worked for their employer for over 1 year.
  • Employees must give 21 days’ notice in advance, though the employer could agree to waive this under the circumstances.

Both employers and workers should be flexible and reasonable.

One approach may not be suitable for all those affected by school closures. A combination of approaches may work best for both parties.

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