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Parental responsibilities and self isolation

Child using laptop whilst parent is working from home

14th October, 2020

With schools being reopened fully, many parents may have been able to return to the workplace either fully or partially, however, with the virus still circulating and infection rates on the rise there is a likelihood many children will be asked to self isolate as part of a bubble in their school.

It is important for employers to be aware of the rights which parents have in relation to their children and options which the employer has in relation to employees with childcare issues.

If a child is sent home from school and asked to self isolate for 14 days, many employees and parents will face similar issues to those faced in lockdown: how do they combine work and homeschooling and/or child care for young children, and what options are available to them if they are unable to work from home?

Flexible working from home

With self-isolation being for a period of 14 days, the disruption to the employee’s work is likely to be shorter than the issues faced during a lockdown.  However, it is possible that there may be more than one requirement to self-isolate for 14 days.

If the employee is able to work from home and the child is old enough not to require full-time attention, then a flexible working from home pattern would be advisable.  Employers can agree with the employee to be more flexible around when the work is carried out.

Parents with very small children may be impacted further by the ability to work whilst looking after young children but it is important to speak to your employees, as the childcare responsibilities may be able to be shared with a partner, which would still enable to the employee to work their normal hours, or agree reduced hours.

What if working from home is not an option?

If working from home is not an option, then employers could consider the following options:

Unpaid Parental Leave

All parents have the right to take 18 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their child which is guaranteed up to the age of 18 for each child.  Parents should provide 21 days’ notice if they wish to use this right.

However, if schools may have to close suddenly or children are taken home if they develop symptoms then employees will not be able to provide 21 days’ notice. In such circumstances, employers should be flexible in their approach to child care issues which may arise and allow parents to take unpaid parental leave.

Placed back Furlough?

If the employee had already been furloughed before the 10th June deadline and they meet the relevant eligibility criteria, then they can be placed on furlough again at 80% provided that the employer is willing to pay the 10% top-up for September and 20% for October including the NI and PAYE contributions.

This may be useful if the employee cannot work from home, or it is difficult to work from home whilst caring for their child.

This option is however very limited as the furlough scheme ends on 31st October.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

In the event that an employee needs to self isolate themselves because their child has developed symptoms and they are either not able to work from home or are too unwell to work from home, they may be eligible for SSP for the period of self-isolation. For further information, please see our article titled “SSP and Self Isolation”.

Annual leave

If employees have sufficient annual leave remaining, they may wish to request a period of annual leave. In such cases, we would recommend that employers consider allowing employees to do so without providing the normal notice requirements.

Risk of Claims?

Employers would be wise to tread carefully in their treatment of employees with childcare issues with an increased risk of sex discrimination claims should a dispute arise or the worker feels they are being treated unfairly because of unexpected childcare arrangements.

For further advice concerning Parental Rights or any other Employment-related issue please do not hesitate to contact Debbie Coyne.

Picture of Debbie Coyne Senior Associate in Employment
Debbie Coyne

Employment Law

Senior Associate
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01244 405 537

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