Hassle Free HR – Employees Affected by School Closures 

On Monday 23 March 2020, nurseries, schools and colleges across the country closed to the majority of children (with exceptions being made for the children of “key workers” or children who are vulnerable / who require specialist support. Details on who is classed as a key worker can be found here). These rules also affected childcare providers such as childminders, who were forced to “close” and only remain open for vulnerable children, children who required specialist support or the children of “key workers”.

Schools began reopening to certain year groups in June 2020, and in September 2020 all schools, nurseries, colleges and childcare providers were permitted to reopen. In June and July 2020 parents were permitted to either send their children back to school or keep their children at home, if they were not comfortable with their children attending. However, the Government has been clear that all pupils must return in September 2020 and that usual attendance is expected, except where isolation rules must be complied with or there are exceptional personal circumstances.

Childcare providers such as nurseries and childminders have been permitted to re-open and resume providing services to all children from 1 June 2020. However, it is important to note that not all childminders and nurseries have re-opened their doors due to concerns that they are unable to take the necessary preventative measures required to safeguard employees and children, so it cannot be assumed that employees with young children have the “easy access” to childcare arrangements that they had before the Coronavirus pandemic.

Also, whilst schools have re-opened and created “educational bubbles” for their pupils, the increasing rates of infection are causing entire “bubbles” to regularly be sent home for periods of isolation, even if the majority of children in that “bubble” aren’t exhibiting any Coronavirus symptoms.

Therefore, it is very likely that even though schools and childcare providers have “re-opened”, you will continue to have employees with childcare issues over the coming months. Parents of children in a “bubble” who have been sent home from school to isolate, but who do not have symptoms themselves, will not be required to self-isolate. However, depending upon the age of their child, they may be required to remain home to care for their child.

If you have employees affected by childcare issues due to Coronavirus, the options available to your employees are as follows:

  • Home Working. We wouldn’t usually advise you to consider home working for an employee who is also caring for their child, but these are unprecedented times. More information on home working can be found here.
  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (placing the employee on “furlough”). Where home working is not possible, we would advise that furlough is considered for employees with childcare issues. However, the scheme will be coming to an end on 31 October 2020. More information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be found here.

Where home working or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are not possible, we suggest the following:

  • Time off for Dependants. This is normally short-term, unpaid leave, that allows employees to take time away from work to deal with an emergency associated with a dependant in their care, which in this case would be making alternative arrangements for childcare. Whilst your employees should not rely on elderly relatives for their childcare, there may be other options available to them. We would usually advise that this leave would only be for as minimum amount of time as possible, but in these uncertain times during the coronavirus outbreak, anything up to a week could be considered reasonable. Check your contracts of employment, they may contain a provision that specifies the first day of this leave is paid.
  • Flexible Working / Reduced Hours. Your employee may request to lower their hours to manage their new and unexpected childcare needs. We would normally advise that you follow the ‘Flexible Working Procedure’ when you receive a such a request however there is now no time for that now. If you receive such a request then we would encourage you to be as flexible as possible so if you can agree to this temporarily, you should. However, we’d recommend agreeing on a “subject to review” basis just in case the agreement turns out to work better “on paper” than it does in practice. If it’s subject to review, you can alter the agreement, or even cancel the agreement, in the future if you need to. Flexible working agreements should always be confirmed in writing.
  • Holiday Entitlement. An employee may request to use their holiday entitlement to ensure they receive payment whilst they are away from the workplace to care for their child. Due to the unexpected nature of the school closures, it may be reasonable for you to be flexible when it comes to holiday request notification periods. It could be that the employee uses holiday entitlement as a full week, or as a number of days per week combined with flexible working, or unpaid leave. Whatever you agree, we recommend it is agreed subject to review, and you confirm the agreement in writing.
  • Unpaid Parental Leave. This is an unpaid statutory right to 18 weeks unpaid leave per child, up until the child is aged 18, and capped at a maximum of 4 weeks per year. This leave must be taken in weekly blocks, it cannot be separated into days. Only employees who have 12 months service and a parental responsibility for a child, have the right to take this leave. Your employees would usually need to provide you with 21 days’ notice of this leave, but you could choose to be flexible and waive this requirement at this time.
  • Unpaid Leave. If you have an employee who has already used all of their Unpaid Parental Leave, or an employee who does not qualify for this leave, then you can agree for the employee to temporarily withdraw from the workplace and take unpaid leave, until the advice from the Government changes and rules on childcare (i.e. the use of Grandparents) are relaxed and people can return to work. This should be agreed in writing to confirm that it was a mutual agreement and not something forced on the employee.

The Government has now confirmed that all schools, colleges, nurseries and childminders will be able to resume services for all children in September 2020. It has also been confirmed that whilst parents have been able to keep their children home without receiving fines up until the 2020 summer holidays, they will not be able to do this when the Autumn term begins, with the usual attendance requirements and fines returning to operation.

Last reviewed on 25 September 2020