Returning to ‘normal’ in the workplace: what arrangements can be made?

What can you do if you have to go back to work and your childcare hasn’t returned to normal or you are anxious about it? Karen Holden of A City Law Firm outlines your options.

A woman sits at her desk with hand sanitiser and face mask in the foreground


As we eventually return to ‘normal’ we must consider how will this look for parents in the workplace or working remotely. Many have returned their children to nursey and school and will have or have had the vaccine and will be ready and able to return to the workplace. However, what if you and your family are still shielding despite the relaxation of the guidance, have not yet had the vaccine or do not want to risk childcare for various reasons or don’t have wraparound childcare? How do you continue to juggle working with uncertain childcare arrangements?

We strongly suggest first and foremost a conversation with your employer, to set out each other’s needs, any concerns, set out a detailed proposal to see if terms can be reached that accommodate both parties, which is then documented and monitored. Communication remains key, a dialogue and transparency will usually help overcome most concerns.

Consider your employment contract and staff handbook and look at potential working arrangements to determine what could be put in place. The options available could include:

1. Making an application for flexible working

This statutory right applies to those employed over 26 weeks who can request such terms as: varying their working hours; working a set number of hours but no set times; operating a few days in the workplace the rest remote; temporarily working part time or perhaps compressed hours.

Think of this as a business plan, setting out the benefits to the employer, how any hurdles can be overcome and showing them how the employer will still get what it needs from the arrangements. Perhaps have past performance reports before you to convince the employer how much you are valued.

The employer has no obligation to agree this request unless contractual. However, it should give reasonable consideration to the proposal and we would advise an employer to have a meeting about this arrangement. Yes, to avoid a grievance, but also to consider how to assist staff during this difficult time and secure loyalty and in turn show commitment to them as recruitment costs and training can be costly for the business.

However, ultimately, providing that the decision is not based on any discriminatory reasons (for example, a man is offered this and not a woman in the same role) they can refuse and they are not legally obliged to give a detailed justification for doing so beyond the seven broad reasons which the Government says can be used.

See also: Flexible Working Request Letter

2. Parental leave

There are exceptions if you require unpaid parental leave, which has its own criteria and eligibility.

You may have up to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave per child in total, subject to a maximum of four weeks per year. You must have been employed over 12 months and you must give at least 21 days’ notice.

3. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Employees who met the furlough criteria, were afforded the opportunity to return to work part time with the difference in pay would be sponsored by the government. This ‘flexible furlough’ enables employers to retain essential staff, but not have the commitment to full-time hours and pay, as well as allowing those with children flexibility to work around their childcare issues. This ends in October 2021.

Read also: Flexible furlough: your questions answered

4. Voluntary changes to your terms

Unilateral changes to your employment terms cannot be made without your consent. However, should you and your employer agree something that works for you both, maybe unpaid leave, reduced hours for reduced pay, job-sharing or a temporary change in jobs, this can be undertaken and should be agreed in writing in a signed document. Both parties should make sure the terms are concise, agreed and defined so there is no ambiguity.

What can be done if employers refuse changes?

If the employer refuses to consider any proposals an employee can only appeal / challenge this if there is cause such as discrimination, breach of the Equality Act or other employment infringement. In which case they should issue a grievance in line with the employer’s policy, seek legal advice where appropriate and if necessary, consider a claim for constructive dismissal or discrimination.

However, we encourage employees to talk to their employer’s first; set out a proposal or complaint to see if there is a compromise to be reached.

Look at the contract and staff handbooks as a guide to the processes and protections available; communication is key and a conversation may assist you reach a compromise; speak out and document proposals and complaints so that the employer not only understands these but has the opportunity to address them. Seek advice from an employment specialist to help guide you through the process or speak to ACAS or your union if you have one.

*Karen Holden is founder of A City Law Firm.

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