Sally Tomlinson: How can employers support working parents during the Covid-19 crisis?

Given the closure of schools and nurseries, the majority of working parents will be facing the issue of having to juggle their work with their childcare and home-schooling responsibilities.

Employers are encouraged to be flexible and accommodating in their approach in these unprecedented times so as both to support the challenges working parents face and also to encourage a more relaxed approach to homeworking that will, ultimately, benefit their business.

This could include recognising that employees may need to work early in the morning and late into the evening so as to free up their daytime to look after children. Other suggestions include temporarily reducing work targets and being flexible in relation to deadlines, where possible.

In some circumstances, such as employees with young children who need constant attention or single parents who cannot share their responsibilities with a co-parent, employees may find it difficult to undertake work while at home. Furthermore, some employees’ roles may be such that they cannot undertake their work from home. If this applies, an employee may be able to assert their statutory right to take time off to care for dependants or take parental leave.

However, such time off is unpaid, unless there is a contractual right to pay, therefore this is unlikely to be a feasible option for employees given that school closures are likely to be in place for some time. Many employees who consider that they can undertake some work while providing childcare would prefer to do so rather than assert their statutory right to time off, if the employer is willing to allow them to work flexibly.

Another option may be for employers to consider furloughing employees who are unable to work and take advantage of the government’s Coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS). While the original wording of the CJRS provided that it was for those employees who would ‘otherwise have been laid off’, this requirement has now been removed.

Accordingly, the CJRS can now apply to anyone in the workforce, subject to qualifying requirements, who may need to be furloughed by reason of circumstances as a result of the current climate.

Therefore, consideration should be given to employees who cannot work due to having childcare responsibilities as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown measures, such as school and nursery closures.

Of course, in selecting employees for furlough leave, it is important that an employer uses appropriate, non-discriminatory criteria and that employment laws are complied with to reduce the risk of claims further down the line.

Sally Tomlinson is a senior associate at Slater Heelis Solicitors

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