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What to do if employees can’t come to work with schools now closed?

Last night, Boris Johnson announced the third national lockdown since March meaning that all schools must close as of today.

Some working parents may be forced to leave their jobs altogether if enhanced support isn’t offered warned Frances Grady, general secretary of the TUC. “Without further action, many will have no choice but to cut their hours or take unpaid leave from work.”

As an employer, you have several options to consider if an employee who has school children can’t come to work due to school closures. Remember, this is a difficult situation for everyone and it won’t last forever. Here are some thoughts:

  • Firstly, review work situation and have an open conversation with staff about their personal situation, their difficulties, potential availability, partners situation (if relevant) etc. to help you understand.
  • Support the government’s protocol of work from home where you can, you may need to take extra steps to help facilitate this.
  • Consider furlough, this may or may not be appropriate given your business situation and also, you must not presume that a parent would want to be furloughed. If furloughing is a possibility, it should be discussed but employers aren’t obliged to furlough staff.

If employees aren’t furloughed, there are alternatives and also other employee rights:

        – Look at reducing or changing working hours/days to help facilitate employee and business needs.

        – Employees can request to use holiday entitlement to cover school closure but it is unlikely this will cover all they need (it will also be subject to business holiday request policies).

        – Employees may ask for unpaid leave for a temporary period to which the employer can decide whether they are happy to facilitate (subject to reasonable response).

        – Right to request flexible working. This is subject to statutory guidance and an employer can refuse on specific grounds, but must properly consider.

        – Parents and carers can take emergency time off. The current closure of schools due to the pandemic is likely to qualify as a problem employees couldn’t foresee. This time off would be unpaid.

        – Employees have the right to claim statutory parental leave for up to 18 weeks for each child, but notice is normally required by the employer. This time off would be unpaid.

Ultimately, as an employer, you will need to be able to demonstrate that you have considered all options and are open to suggestions. Plus, it’s really important to consider the requirement not to discriminate against employees for reasons such as sex. Ultimately, more women are likely to be the primary carers in the workplace.

If you have policies in place, these must be followed, as must those statutory guidelines that can be found on the government websites.

This isn’t going to be easy for anyone, but it’s important to support employees at this time as our people are really the backbones of our businesses. Think outside the box where possible. For support in these situations, please contact us at ViewHR.