Childcare and working during Covid-19

 

As more businesses open and workers return to work schools remain closed and the problem of childcare remains. advo hr’s Jess Hall outlines how business should approach takes a closer look at the problem.

Jessica Hall advo hr advisor

Parents all over the world are adapting to a new way of living during lockdown. Talking from experience as a parent, it’s been one of the most challenging situations during this time.

As an employer there are inevitably employees who have encountered issues with childcare during the pandemic which are outside the employee’s control and as a result may have an impact on the business. So, what are the employer’s rights and what can you do to support your employees in these circumstances?

If there is an option for the employee to work from home then they should. Some schools and nurseries have started to open but parents currently have the choice whether to send their children back. This also only applies to certain year groups and soon the summer holidays are looming and social clubs may not be accessible during this period like they would normally be.

Employers need to consult with their employees and consider their situations prior to taking any action.

Employers should consider the following in these exceptional circumstances:

  • whether it is possible for the employee to work from home or essential for them to return to the workplace;
  • whether the employee has childcare available;
  • their personal circumstances;
  • whether they could adjust the times the employee works or working patterns, to suit alternative childcare arrangements and balance work and childcare;
  • task based working only; and
  • offer the employee any annual leave entitlement available to them.

Employers need to be conscious they are not discriminating against employees and try and be as flexible as they can. Particularly if the employee is a woman with children, as being treated negatively or being forced to take unpaid leave as a result of childcare responsibilities could potentially amount to indirect sex discrimination, as generally childcare responsibilities impact women more than men. Therefore, employers should not make employees take unpaid leave when it could otherwise agree to more flexible arrangements.  Having said that the employer does have the right to expect that employees are devoting their attention to working rather than looking after their children if they are getting paid.

Employers should also consider whether an employee or a member of their household has been advised to shield.

If the flexible options above are not possible, the following could be considered:

  • If the employee cannot continue working because of caring or childcare responsibilities as a result of coronavirus, you can furlough them. Although the latest employees could be furloughed for the first time was 10 June so this would only apply to those who had been furloughed for a minimum of 3 consecutive weeks and that this furlough leave started no later than 10 June 2020.
  • Time off for dependants leave – this is unpaid leave unless the Company offers enhanced paid leave in this situation. Employees can take time off which is necessary because of an unexpected breakdown in care arrangements. Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days, because it is aimed to allow you time to organise the care of your dependant so may not be a long-term solution. If social distancing rules are relaxed, the employer may be able to argue that the employee is no longer eligible for time off for dependants because they can now arrange alternative childcare.
  • Ordinary Parental Leave – this is normally unpaid unless the Company offer enhanced pay. There are eligibility and notice requirements but parents can potentially take up to 4 weeks leave per child per year.

Please check your contracts and staff handbooks relating to how you handle the above policies.

There are many factors here which will need to be thought about to find the best solution and everybody’s circumstances will be different. These are exceptional times and employers will need to be as flexible and adaptable as possible.

If you would like more support to care for your employees then drop advo hr a line on advohr@advogroup.co.uk

 
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