HR Expert: School Closures
With schools remaining shut in England, Wales, and Scotland, a client would like to know if time off for dependants is appropriate to use in circumstances where working staff have childcare issues.

The first thing that should be noted is that children of key workers, and vulnerable children may still be able to go to school whilst they are technically “shut”. Key workers can therefore inform a school of their situation and ask for this assistance. The full list of who is classed as a key worker can be found on gov.uk.

Outside of this situation, where a parent is not self-isolating but is faced with unforeseen childcaring issues, they are legally entitled to unpaid time off for dependants. The employment right to this time off is intended to be for unforeseen emergencies only, of which the coronavirus will likely fall under. The law stipulates that time off for dependants can be taken specifically where a dependant has either fallen ill, is injured, or is assaulted.

Other circumstances in which this time can be taken include where arrangements for the provision of care of a dependant need to be made, where normal arrangements have been disrupted. This would include the unexpected closure of an employee’s child’s school. Currently, there is no qualifying service period required to entitle an employee to take time off work of this nature so employees who have just started a new role can still take this time off.

If parents are to take time off for dependants, they should be aware that, aside from the fact that it is unpaid, they are required to inform their employer, your client, as soon as reasonably practicable about the absence, the reason for it and the anticipated length. Your client should not reasonably refuse this time off. Employees have a right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off, which is generally taken to be up to 2 days per instance. This is because the reason for the time off is to make other arrangements for childcare, rather than time off actually to look after the child. However, your client may want to consider the coronavirus situation when establishing principles around a ‘reasonable’ amount of time.

Where it is clear that a longer period of time off may be needed, your client may find it beneficial to open up communication with employees about how an extended period of time off will be dealt with. It may be that employees are permitted to work from home where possible or other options, including furlough where necessary. The furlough scheme can only be used in this instance if the company has experienced business downturn due to the coronavirus.


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HR Expert: School Closures
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