COVID-19 – employment guidance for parents and employers of parents

  • Posted

This is an update – our original article was posted 19 March 2020.

Following the Government’s advice of 18 March 2020 that all schools in the UK will be closed until further notice, and encouraging parents to not utilise grandparents as childcare, the inevitable question that follows will be how are parents meant to continue their jobs with children that need looking after at home, in an increasing state of isolation.

1. Consider flexible working arrangements where possible

In order to assist businesses to continue whilst childcare is an issue for many individuals, and following the government lockdown in place since 23 March 2020, businesses should think carefully about whether they can operate more flexibly and allow individuals to work from home where at all possible.

Can individuals work from home (understanding that if dependents are at homework levels may fluctuate or work may have to be completed during either earlier or later hours), or can shifts be organised to help parents manage their other responsibilities? Some larger employers might consider having in-house childcare support arrangements.

All employees who have been employed for 26 weeks or more (not just those with children) have the right to formally request flexible working, and there is a statutory procedure that employers must follow. Any formal request that goes through the formal process would be a permanent change to contract if agreed.

However, during this period it may be that informal and temporary flexible working requests can be agreed pragmatically with staff, and employers should make it clear these are not permanent if so. Employees with 26 weeks’ service, in particular, should feel comfortable requesting flexible working as there are protections in place if they are subjected to a detriment or dismissal as a result.

2. Furlough Leave

The government guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“furlough leave”) makes it clear that employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID-19 can be furloughed. This is the case even if their job is still operational and they would not otherwise be made redundant.

Read more about furlough leave in:

3. Holiday

Statutory and contractual holiday arrangements are still in place for all employees and workers and should be requested and authorised in the usual way. It would be sensible for employers to take a pragmatic approach in these times if their employee or worker requests holiday for childcare purposes.

4. Emergency time off for dependents

This is a right that only applies to employees, from day 1. This is the right to take reasonable and emergency time off to care for or arrange care for a dependent, which includes children and parents.

The right should only last for as long as is reasonable to make other arrangements (usually only a couple of days) and therefore it may be argued that given the Government has given a few days’ notice of care being required on Monday, there should have been time to make arrangements.

However, going forwards, if that arranged care falls through (e.g. the carer is sick or in isolation) this right would apply. The right to emergency time off is unpaid.

5. Unpaid parental leave

Again this is a right that only applies to employees that have been employed for a year and that have children aged up to 18. They must either have responsibility for the child or be registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate.

The right is to take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave per child (across all employments).

Under the default statutory scheme employees can only take 4 weeks’ parental leave per year, but this can be varied by agreement and employers may wish to consider this option for struggling parents.

There are specific notice provisions and an employer can request a postponement of the leave under the statutory scheme. Employers should take further advice if they wish to take this approach.

6. Sick pay

Finally, as across all coronavirus issues, if an employee or worker is sick (for any reason including coronavirus) then sick pay (statutory or contractual) applies in the usual way.

If they are self-isolating because of recommendations from Public Health England or another Government body, then they are entitled to statutory sick pay under the new Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020.

Further information

For specific advice for your business, please get in touch with our specialist Employment Law team through this website or by calling 0330 404 0778.

For all of our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice, please visit https://www.ashtonslegal.co.uk/coronavirus/

Our partners at Ashtons HR Consulting are also on hand to assist you.


This information is correct at 10.30am on 17 April 2020.


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