With the pandemic changing many employees’ childcare arrangements, Victoria Templeton, our HR Knowledge Manager, looks at how businesses can support their workers with childcare needs during the pandemic.
How can employers help staff with childcare needs?
With the immediate closure of schools and childcare provisions at the start of the pandemic – as well as initial guidance requiring the over 70’s to stay at home, which for many meant they could not be the childcare provider to their grandchildren – many employees have struggled to return to a normal working pattern.
Though restrictions have lifted little by little, over the last five months employers have had to be flexible when it comes to staff with children, judging on a case by case basis rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. There is now the further challenge of local lockdowns, and the impact that these may have on schools and other childcare providers from September.
With these changing needs, employers are being urged to continue to be flexible when managing their staff and consider all options available in helping to support their employees with childcare needs. Here are some of the ways in which employers can support workers without childcare.
So long as the employee has previously been furloughed on or before 10 June, then furlough is an option. The government widened the eligibility of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) by allowing it to be used for those with caring responsibilities.
An employer does not have to accept a request from the employee and the CJRS will close 31 October 2020, but for the remaining time it is an option and it may just give the employee that brief period of being able to deal with their childcare needs.
The statutory right to ask for flexible working has existed since 2003. While it’s not a legal right to have flexible working, staff do have a legal right to request it – though, there are certain obligations on the employer when considering any such request.
It’s worth remembering that flexible working can be beneficial to a business, and at a time where businesses need to rebuild stronger and become more agile in its response to coronavirus, implementing flexible working could help.
Employers can be creative about how to offer flexible working, so discussing the circumstances with your employee and understanding their childcare needs will be important. Examples of flexible working include:
- Part-time working
- Condensed hours (for example, working your 5 days over 4 days)
- Home working
- Job sharing
- Flexitime (changing the start and end times of a working day to allow the employee to provide childcare).
Employees with over 1-year continuous service have a statutory right to apply for unpaid parental leave. The entitlement is for a maximum four weeks per child, per year (pro-rated for part time employees) and they must provide at least 21 days’ notice.
Even though it’s unpaid, it is an option for employees to consider and it’s important for employers to be as flexible as possible. Given the pandemic, consider relaxing the requirement that they must give 21 days’ notice and mutually agree a feasible day for it to start from.
Time off for dependants
All employees, regardless of length of service, have a statutory right to take reasonable unpaid time off work to undertake the necessary and unexpected care for a dependant. While this is not a long-term measure to deal with childcare issues, it could be an option in an emergency.
However, even if it’s appropriate because it begins as an emergency, the right for time off is only for a ‘reasonable’ period, and what is ‘reasonable’ is not defined in law; though, in most cases, we believe one or two days off work should be enough to enable the employee to make alternative arrangements. Further time off that’s required after this initial emergency period could then be covered by any of the options set out in this article.
Career break schemes
If you offer career breaks in your organisation, these could be considered when an employee needs support in managing childcare. There is no statutory right to leave of this kind, so it completely depends on whether your organisation offers this.
If you do offer these, then just make sure the terms of the arrangement are clearly set out in writing so there can be no confusion or misunderstanding around what happens to the contract while out of the business and the expected return to work date.
Annual or unpaid leave
Another option is to allow an extended period of annual leave. Clearly this can only be for a defined period as it’s important to keep some annual leave aside for use throughout the holiday year from a health and safety and working time regulations perspective. To use all annual leave entitlement in one go is likely to go against the working time regulations, so careful thought and planning should go into agreeing how much time out of the office you can support.
A reasonable period of unpaid leave may also provide the employee the time to provide the care, but also to find new alternative arrangements. Continuity of service remains, and the employee would need to agree to it.
For more guidance articles relating to the pandemic visit the HR Solutions’ ‘Coronavirus Advice and Guidance for Employers’ section.
HR Solutions are here to provide you with support and advice on any employment-related issues. Find out more by calling us on 0844 324 5840 or contact us online.