How should employers respond if employees are affected by school closures to prevent the spread of coronavirus?
There is limited statutory provision for time off for employees who have to look after their children when schools, nurseries and other childcare providers are closed. Employers should keep in mind that advice on self-isolation and social distancing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is likely to make it more difficult for employees to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children. Employees may have no option but to stay at home themselves.
Employers should support an employee in this situation to work from home if possible and should consider making adjustments to the role and/or working hours to enable this. If the employer has a policy that employees should not be responsible for looking after their children at the same time as working from home, it may need to relax this policy.
Where the nature of the role, and/or the employee's childcare responsibilities, mean that working from home is not an option, employers will need to consider alternative arrangements, such as a period of furlough. Government guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme confirms that employers can furlough employees who are unable to work because of caring responsibilities resulting from the coronavirus crisis. The guidance gives the example of employees who need to look after children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing.
Employees with at least one year's service are entitled to up to 18 weeks' unpaid ordinary parental leave for each child under the age of 18.
The statutory right to time off for dependants provides for a period of unpaid leave to take action necessary because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant. This would cover time off to arrange alternative childcare in the event of a school closure, but it does not cover extended time off for employees to look after their children themselves. Some employers may have a policy on time off to care for dependants that is more generous than the statutory minimum.