Five ways employers can deal with return-to-work childcare issues

Kate Palmer from HR experts Peninsula gives employers advice on how they can address the childcare issues many employees will face in the next months.

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Over the past few days, more workplaces have reopened, but schools and other childcare settings such as holiday clubs are unlikely to open for some time, leaving many working parents with a childcare problem over summer. Considering this, Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula, looks at five ways employers can deal with return-to-work childcare issues.

1.     Explore flexible working options

Flexible working can be extremely beneficial to a workforce, allowing employees to create a healthy work/life balance that can also assist with childcare issues. All employees have the statutory right to request flexible working hours after they have completed 26 weeks of service, but, due to the impact of coronavirus on childcare, employers should consider these options for all staff members where it is possible to implement them. This can range from flexible start and finish times (known as flexi-time) to part-time working arrangements.

2.     Working from home

Employers can consider this form of flexible working where it is possible to do so – it’s now a more popular option thanks to the pandemic. This right applies to those either working full time or part time and those who are employed on either a permanent or fixed-term basis. Working from home can also be combined with flexitime, depending on what is agreed between employers and their affected employees. Employees working from home may work entirely at home or split their work activities between their home and the workplace.

3.     Furlough scheme

On Friday 20th March, the government announced its plans to implement financial assistance to help organisations retain employees for an extended period, where they do not carry out any work. Employees can no longer be furloughed for the first time under the scheme due to the 10th June cut-off point but, as the scheme will last until 31st October, previously furloughed staff can still benefit from it to cover the months that they will need to take off before schools are reopened and/or other childcare arrangements can be made.

Reservist employees and those returning from family leave are the only groups exempt as they can be furloughed for the first time even after the 10th June deadline. Employers will also have the option of flexible furlough from 1st July so that furloughed employees can be returned to work on a part-time basis.

4.     Annual or unpaid leave

Employees are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of annual leave in a leave year and so the easiest option, for the time being, could be for employees to use their annual leave before childcare arrangements can be made. Employers can enforce annual leave by giving twice as much notice as the leave in question, for example, four weeks’ notice to enforce two weeks of annual leave. Employees who do not have enough annual leave remaining can utilise periods of unpaid leave instead, with an agreement and express permission from their employer.

5.     Dismissal

Employers may believe that dismissal is a reasonable, though unfavourable decision, but in actuality, taking this route may be discriminatory, so the best solution to deal with employees who have childcare responsibilities is to communicate with them to ascertain how best to move forward. This will likely be a short-term solution so employees should be advised that they will need to find alternative long-term childcare arrangements.

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