Schools, colleges and nurseries to close – Impact on employers/businesses
On Wednesday 18 March 2020 the Prime Minister announced that schools will be closed from this afternoon and will remain closed for most pupils (the vast majority) until “further notice” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51952314).
The Prime Minister also stated that schools will remain open for the supervision of children of NHS staff and other front-line workers, as well as for vulnerable children. He also announced a national voucher scheme, to ensure that pupils eligible for free school meals get a meal each day, and said that this summer’s exams would be replaced by teacher assessment.
Since the school closure announcement, the Government has promised more detailed guidance on:
- Free school meal measures for schools;
- How pupils unable to sit their GCSEs and A-levels because of the school closures will be awarded their grades; and
- The categories of key workers (thought to include National Health Service workers, Armed forces, teachers and childcare staff, care home workers, social workers, police or prison officers and firefighters).
However, the Government has not announced plans to give further guidance to employers on the impact that school closures could have on their employees/working arrangements or the impact that it might have on homeworking arrangements already in place.
The Government’s decision to close schools could have a massive impact on working parents and, therefore, employers should be alert to the various rights and issues that may be relevant to this situation:
Do working parents have a right to time-off?
The main right for employees in this situation is emergency dependant leave. This covers school closures and other unexpected disruptions to the arrangements to care for the child. The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday, or take unpaid parental leave (of up to 4 weeks per year per child).
Employees also may have a right to unpaid parental leave (time off to look after a child up to their 18th birthday). Whilst parental leave is normally to spend more time with children or look after them during school holidays it may also be an option during a school closure.
Each parent can take up to 18 weeks for each child in blocks of a week at a time with a maximum of 4 weeks a year for each child.
Should an employer require notice of parental leave?
Normally employees must ask the employer 21 days before parental leave starts but employers could waive this notice requirement.
What about home working?
Government advice is to avoid any unnecessary contact with other people. This is known as ‘social distancing’ which includes advice that employees should working from home, if they can.
Acas guidance states that:
“Employers should support their workforce to take these steps. This might include:
- agreeing to more flexible ways of working, for example changing start and finish times to avoid busier commuting times
- allowing staff to work from home wherever possible
- cancelling face-to-face events and meetings and rearranging to remote calling where possible, for example using video or conference calling technology.”
What if workers are unable to work from home?
If employees can’t work from home, their employer should help employees find ways to avoid unnecessary contact.
Some working parents will find themselves needing to cope with work with looking after their children and supporting their learning at home now schools were closing. Employers are likely to need to have sensible and understanding conversations with parents about what is needed, and what is and isn’t possible, over the coming weeks.
Can we help?
We are continuing business as usual and we can offer video and conference calls to all clients to discuss their Coronavirus employment related concerns.
We are also able to advise on:
- Statutory sick pay entitlements
- Managing absences
- How to deal with quarantined employees
- Business continuity