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School closures: what are the implementations

for businesses?

With schools remaining shut in England, Wales and Scotland, what do organisations need to consider when taking into account working parents?

Usually, the start of January means the start of a new term in schools. However, the continued escalation of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a number of changes to the expected return of pupils to schools across the UK, a situation that is constantly changing. At the time of writing, the following applies:

England
 

Despite some primary schools reopening on 4 January, all primary and secondary schools, alongside colleges, must now stay closed until 15 February at least as a result of a new national lockdown. However, nurseries can remain open and schools will also remain open for vulnerable children and children of key workers. 

Scotland
 

Schools are open for children of key workers, however they are to remain closed across the country, including on the islands, until at least 1 February. 

Wales

Schools are also currently open for children of key workers, with a phased return expected from 11 January. All pupils are expected on 18 January.

What does this mean?

The first thing that should be noted is that children of key workers may still be able to go to school in this time. Key workers can therefore use this letter this letter, to inform a school of their situation..  

Where a parent is not self-isolating but are 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 as soon as reasonably practicable about the absence, the reason for it and the anticipated length. Organisations 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 point of the time off is to make other arrangements for childcare, rather than time off actually to look after the child. However, employers 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, organisations 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 a temporary period of other flexible working options arranged. It should be remembered that working parents can also be furloughed in response to childcaring issues where necessary. However, there is no right to be furloughed; it is used at the employer’s discretion.

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