The news of school closures and move to remote learning may be causing a headache for both working parents and employers. School provisions will remain in place for children of key workers or who are classed as vulnerable. However, that still leaves many working parents in a position of having to juggle childcare and work. So what options are available?
In these extraordinary times, there are several options available to employers and employees. Employees with school age children who cannot work from home and are unable to come to work due to a lack of childcare would ordinarily be on a period of unpaid dependency or parental leave, or required to take annual leave. However, as schools are closed as a result of the pandemic, Government guidance is that even if your business is unaffected by the pandemic, the furlough scheme can still be used in these circumstances.
Furlough can be full time or flexible, allowing for adjustments in working arrangements rather than no work being performed at all. Furlough does however come at a cost in terms of the employer contributions. There may be other flexible options that can be considered such as adjustments to work patterns, compressed hours or a reduction in work time to facilitate childcare.
Whilst many employers will have been through these situations already in the past year, and flexibility now may help staff retention in the future, there may still be scope for disagreement. Such as whether to furlough or not and whether an employee can realistically combine the care of young children and work. Disagreement must be handled carefully. Employees have legal rights to time off to care for a dependant, to request parental leave or flexible working arrangements, as well as rights not to be discriminated against. A requirement to work full time hours could be considered discriminatory on the grounds of sex, with the reality being that women are still more likely to have main childcare responsibilities. Any changes to terms and conditions, including a decision to furlough, must be agreed rather than imposed, and advice should be taken on any difficulties that arise.