It’s tough being a working parent at the best of times, but the lack of school and childcare options during the Covid-19 lockdown and its aftermath has tested the patience of parents, and many employers, to the limit.  Not only are many children unable to attend school and nursery, but school clubs and other childcare options during the long summer holiday are also likely to be out of action.

Here is a helpful article in the Independent giving tips on how to cope with home-schooling when working from home, but what rights does an employee have and how should employers address problems?

Furlough leave

Furlough leave is an option for some. Employers are allowed to keep or place employees with childcare responsibilities on furlough leave provided the employee was furloughed on or before 10 June 2020 (the deadline for furloughing an employee for the first time).  The CJRS currently covers 80% of an employee’s pay up to £2,500 per month as well as employer NICs and pension contributions.  So, provided the employee has agreed to a reduction in pay, this could be a cost neutral option for many employers – at least for the time being.  Employer costs will increase as the furlough scheme is wound down, but the substantial compensation offered by the scheme still makes this an attractive option for many employees and employers in the private sector.  Part-time furloughing is available from 1 July.

Unpaid time off for dependants

All working parents have the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off when this is necessary to deal with childcare issues, but this will not, and is not designed to, cover the sort of ongoing day to day childcare issues parents are experiencing currently.

Unpaid parental leave

Parents of children under 18 who have at least 1 year’s service can take up to 4 weeks’ unpaid parental leave per child per year.  Requests should be made to employers.

Annual leave

Parents can use their paid annual leave to take time off work to care for their children.  Requests for leave should be made in the usual way.

Flexible working

Any employee can request flexible working to vary their working hours and/or work part-time but employers should follow the statutory procedure with employees who have at least 6 months’ service who have not made another flexible working request in the last 12 months.

Here is advice on making a formal request for flexible working and employers can find advice on dealing with a flexible working request here.

What if an employee can’t work their contracted hours because of childcare?

At the end of the day, whilst some employers may be prepared to continue to pay employees who are struggling with childcare commitments, this is not expected or required and, as with any HR issue, it is better to address the problem rather than to simply hope that it will go away.

When childcare interferes with work, the best way forward is for employers and employees alike to discuss the matter and find a suitable way forward.  Failing to address problems will leave employees who are experiencing childcare issues feeling stressed and frustrated whilst discontent and resentment is likely to spread amongst staff without childcare problems.  The Government has made it clear that it expects employers to be understanding whilst schools and nurseries remain closed to many pupils but, at the end of the day, ignoring the issue is likely to result in reduced staff motivation and wellbeing and reduced company revenue at a time when finances for many employers are already very tight.

Further help

If you would like further help with any of the steps outlined above or their implementation, contact Caroline Banwell of Harmony HR Solutions.