On Monday 4 January 2021, the prime minister announced that a new lockdown in England would commence immediately and last until at least mid-February 2021. Schools will close to most pupils, and instead offer online learning until after February’s half-term break.
Many working parents will, once again, find their home and professional lives blurred in a way unimaginable before March 2020. With schools, nurseries and childcare facilities closed to the majority of children, working parents are suddenly tasked with video conferencing whilst simultaneously supervising a maths lesson or working late into the night as the penance for an afternoon spent with the kids.
What practical steps can employers take?
1. What if it is not practical for the employee to work effectively from home?
• Unpaid dependant care leave: an employee can take unpaid time off to take whatever action is necessary because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of their child (which includes school closures).
• Furlough leave: employees can be furloughed because they are ‘unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus, including employees that need to look after children’. An employer does not need to be facing a wider reduction in demand, or be closed, to be eligible to claim for these employees.
• Unpaid parental leave: parents of a child under 18, who are employees with one year’s service, can take up to four weeks’ unpaid parental leave per year (up to a maximum of 18 weeks in total), although an employer could allow more time to be used in these specific circumstances.
• Taking annual leave: the employee could take some annual leave to cover times when alternative childcare is not available. Holiday could be taken either be in single blocks of time or, with the employer’s agreement, broken into a few days holiday each week, to allow the employee to work fewer hours.
• Reverse time off in lieu: it may be possible for the employer and employee to agree that the employee will be granted some paid time off now, which will be made up the time later in the year (eg by working unpaid overtime).
2. What if the employee can work from home but is juggling childcare responsibilities?
• Set core hours and then allow for flexi schedules: require all staff to work between 11am and 4pm and beyond those core hours allow staff to work early mornings and into the evenings so that they are free to share childcare duties with their partner.
• Allow a temporary change to working patterns: if need be, consider a request to revise hours for a month or two whilst employees manage their childcare responsibilities.
• Allocate no-meeting hours: consider when parents are most busy with childcare duties and block out those hours as meeting-free, this maybe first thing in the morning, around lunchtime or at the end of the school day. Take a survey and go with the majority view.
• Create a group for parents on whatever social media platform you use internally: already a ‘thing’ in many organisations in the UK, this sort of group provides support, practical and moral, for employees juggling frantically!
3. Further helpful practical steps to take…
• Free antigen tests for employees, their partners and anyone over 18 years old living in their household.
• Emergency loans of up to say £750 per person.
• Option to reduce pension salary sacrifice for a year.
For advice on any of the above please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org or 07917 878384