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What should an employer do if employees are unable to return to work because of childcare responsibilities?

Childcare responsibilities and returning to work during COVID-19

For a lot of us, the Coronavirus has impacted our working lives and changed our routine dramatically. But it is important to remember that for those with children, their childcare routines may have also been altered and should an employee be required to come back to work, then childcare may impact their ability to go straight back to their old working routine. 

As many of us slowly transition back into work following the Government guidelines, not everyone is either able or wanting to send their children back into Education or childcare facilities. 

What should I do as an employer?

If an employee is struggling to return back to work or keep up their hours due to childcare issues then employers should sit down with the employee and figure out what the next steps or available options are for them so that they can both find a way to make it work. Employers should consider the extra pressures employees may be facing due to now having to manage their work and childcare responsibilities when coming to an agreement that works for both of them.

Employee Rights

Employees have a statutory right to unpaid time off for emergencies, known as ‘dependant leave’ and this is likely to include when ‘care arrangements for someone suddenly break down’. But it is important to remember that this is not an indefinite amount of time off unpaid, but a right to ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with the current situation. Parent’s are also entitled to 4 weeks a year of unpaid parental leave

Parental leave is unpaid. You’re entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday. The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take in a year is 4 weeks for each child (unless the employer agrees otherwise).

As an employer, you should check employees contracts and any policies you have surrounding parental leave or unpaid time off for emergencies.

Options for those with Childcare Responsibilities

Working Families offer advice to employees looking to return to work but also have childcare responsibilities. 

If employees can work from home - then they should! In some cases, it might be more effective to come to an agreement with an employer about changing an employee’s hours to help them work effectively whilst also caring for their children. 

If they cannot work from home...

Furlough - following government advice on furlough during COVID-19, if employees are unable to continue to work because of childcare responsibilities, then employers can furlough them. 

Reducing hours - in order to balance work and childcare, employees may want to reduce their hours. You can also do this through a flexible working request. 

Time off for dependants - as we stated above, employees are allowed time off for dependants (dependant leave) which is generally unpaid (unless stated otherwise in a contract).

Unpaid parental leave - as also stated above, employees may also take unpaid parental leave to care for their children. But there are minimum legal requirements to meet for this leave.  

Special leave - this might be a leave that an employer has agreed to specifically because of COVID-19, this will depend on the organisation and what they have offered. 

Annual leave - employers may allow employees to take some of their annual leave for their childcare needs.

Returning to Work

An employee might be returning to work for various reasons, but one of these could include the use of emergency or parental leave. An effective way to ease employees back into their work is our Returning to Work Training. Through this course, employees will learn about what they can do before returning, how to handle the first few days back and any policies or procedures they might need to consider. We also provide advice on mindfulness and setting SMART goals with your employer/manager.

Returning to Work Training