School closures: what are my options?

Schools, colleges and nurseries across the UK have now closed until further notice as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is a concern for both employers and employees how parents will continue to work and ensure that their children are cared for.

It is vital that employees openly discuss with their employers the effect that school closures will have on their ability to work. Employers and employees should consider the options below.

Flexible working

Although employers are under no obligation to allow staff to work flexibly, flexible working arrangements may help parents continue to work and thereby keep up profitability, while at the same time allow staff to look after their children and continue to receive a wage. This may involve a change in working hours and the ability to work from home (if not already doing so). 

Time off for dependents

If flexible working is not possible, employees are allowed a “reasonable” time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. This is a right for all employees to deal with emergencies such as the unexpected disruption of childcare arrangements. This can be taken at any time without needing to give notice. There is no statutory right to pay for this time, but some employers may offer pay depending on the contract of employment or workplace policy.

Other options

Employees can take parental leave of up to 18 weeks, unpaid, for each child in their care. With unpaid parental leave, employers are allowed to insist that 21 days notice of intention to take this leave is given. Employees should consider whether their employer has a policy on parental leave and follow any processes set out within that.

Employers and employees may be able to agree a period of paid and/or unpaid annual leave in the coming months in order that employees can stay at home and look after their children. It is important to note that employers would have to agree to any unpaid leave.

This is an anxious time for working parents and employers. Please see https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus for more information.

Posted on: 19/03/2020

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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