Households with key workers
27th March, 2020
We all need to do what we can to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
That is why the government has asked parents to keep their children at home, wherever possible, and asked schools to remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend.
Schools are therefore being asked to continue to provide care for a limited number of children – children who are vulnerable, and children whose parents are classed as a key worker.
Who are Key workers?
Parents classed as key workers include those who work in health and social care, education and childcare, key public services, local and national government, food and other necessary goods, public safety and national security, transport and utilities, communication and financial services.
Many parents working in these sectors may be able to ensure their child is kept at home. If this is possible, and a key workers child can be safely cared for at home, then the government is urging them to keep their child at home. However, this raises some challenging questions:
Questions our clients are asking us:
• In a household with children, where one of the parents is a key worker and the other is working from home, how do employers tackle the childcare/work issue?
• What measures can employers take to ensure work is being done, whilst also being understanding of people’s child care issues?
The key role for employers here is to be flexible. These are unprecedented times which require all of us to work together, be creative, and find solutions that work for everyone: employers; employees; clients; and customers alike.
Our experience is that it is possible, even in these testing times, to find the right balance between the requirements for parents to look after their children, whilst also taking care of their work responsibilities, and the needs of the business.
It is not always necessary for your employee to work between the hours of 9am to 5pm. Many children at home will be required to participate in online classes.
Many of these classes will commence at 9am, and so parents will need to be at hand to assist their children in this regard. Allowing employees to work around the traditional 9am to 5pm working day will allow parents to provide adequate care for their children whilst also catering for the needs of their employer.
Moreover, it may be possible for employees to catch up with some work over the weekend or at evenings, provided of course that this works for your clients and customers also. Communicate with your employees and find out what works for all parties.
There are various ways for employers to ensure that work is being completed, and that it’s being completed to a high standard. It is recommended to focus on output rather than how or when the work is being done. To that end, consider the following:
• Stay in regular contact with your employee. For example, pick up the phone on a regular basis, send an email, or perhaps invite your employee to join a WhatsApp type messaging group.
• Be there for your employee to answer any queries or concerns they have.
• Have regular catch up meetings with your employee. For example, have regular team meetings by way of video conference such as skype or zoom. In this way you can invite a number of employees like any regular team meeting. It provides a perfect opportunity to ask your employees questions, find out what they are doing and listen to any concerns that they may have.
• Discuss with the employee what output is expected of them and how this will be monitored but explain that as long as business needs are met, you are happy for the employee to work around any needs they have.
• Ask your employee to provide you with updates (by email or phone) setting out what tasks they have completed and what problems they may have so that you can discuss this.
• Whilst you will want to keep an eye on whether targets are being met, it is important to understand that there will likely be a downturn of work in most sectors of the economy and that it will take many employees time to adjust to new and temporary working arrangements.
In our experience, flexible working can work for both the employer and the employee.
• If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be and employers should offer support to their employees, wherever possible.
• If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is a key worker, then educational provision will be available for them.
• Parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.
• Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.
• Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings continue to care for children wherever possible.
Steve Davies, Associate Solicitor [email protected]
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