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Coronavirus – What are the options when the schools close on Friday?

19 Mar 2020

Our briefing note from yesterday advised of steps employers could take when facing a potentially significant downturn in business. However, in light of last night’s announcement that schools and childcare providers will close as of Friday afternoon, thought now needs to be given as to the options available when employees cannot attend work as they don’t have alternative childcare arrangements. Consider:

  • Check contracts and policies: consider whether you have any contractual terms, policies or procedures in place which provide for paid time off in these circumstances.
  • Unpaid time off for dependants leave: usually this is emergency leave which is supposed to last one or two days but these are of course exceptional circumstances and we anticipate the government will make it clear at some stage that employees shouldn’t be subject to a detriment for taking lengthy spells of dependants leave.
  • Home working: government guidance is now encouraging people to work from home wherever possible. Where this is a viable option, it can at least reduce the risk of infections within the business. Contact us for a free Homeworking Policy. It may be sensible to agree this on an interim basis only so productivity can be regularly reviewed as this may depend upon matters such as the age of an employee’s children, business requirements at the time, reliability of IT systems etc.
  • Holidays: allowing employees to take accrued annual leave where possible
  • Reduced hours / pay: it may be possible to agree with employees to move on to temporarily reduced hours with a reduction in pay. Where there is no contractual right to enforce this, this must be done with employee consent however to avoid claims.
  • Parental leave: unpaid leave is available to employees (provided certain criteria are met) to care for their children. Eligible employees can take up to 18 weeks’ parental leave in total for each child. Under the statutory scheme an employee must give at least 21 days’ notice of leave, and may take up to four weeks per year in respect of each child, usually in blocks of one or more whole weeks. If the schools are to be closed for prolonged periods of time, employees may start submitting requests. Employers can turn down requests only in limited circumstances, which we can advise on.

Note some schools will be kept open with a skeleton staff to provide support for the children of key workers, such as NHS staff, police and delivery drivers. They will also be asked to help those most in need – for example, children who have a social worker. Further details are awaited.

We can of course provide guidance on all of the above issues. Please don’t hesitate to contact the Employment Team or call 0191 232 8345.