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Kate Palmer from HR experts Peninsula outlines what leave parents are entitled to use during the coronavirus pandemic if they have childcare issues.
With many children set to remain out of school for some time, employers who are trying to return to normal may see an increase in parents struggling with childcare. To this end, they must be familiar with the rights that working parents have. Denying employees their rights in this situation, or treating them poorly as a result of their requesting to make use of their rights, could result in the company facing costly tribunal claims.
Staff who have worked for a company for at least 26 weeks have the right to request a change to their working hours once every 12 months, such as amending start and finish times. For example, if they are struggling to look after children, changing their hours may help them to facilitate childcare while also conducting their duties in full. Employers do not have to permit these requests. However, they must provide a sound business reason for their refusal.
As lockdown is relaxed and businesses reopen, employers have been encouraged to let more staff work from home, which many companies have likely had to explore, maybe for the first time, over the past few months. Again, employers do not need to allow this, but homeworking can be requested through the usual flexible working procedures and, in this situation, will need to be treated in the same way as all other flexible working requests.
Although the Job Retention Scheme is to close for new furloughed staff from 30 June 2020 to make way for flexible furlough, the government has confirmed that this does not apply to staff returning from family leave. This means that those returning from maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental or parental bereavement leave can still be placed on furlough past the cut-off date of 10 June.
Parents who have worked for a company for at least one year have the right to take a period of unpaid parental leave. They can take up to 18 weeks of leave per child, up until that child turns 18, to care for them. Under the default scheme set out by the government, time off is limited to four weeks per year per child and must be taken in blocks of no less than a week – unless the child is disabled.
Employees must provide at least 21 days’ notice if they do wish to take parental leave. Employers cannot prohibit or prevent the leave being taken, but can seek to postpone it by up to six months if they can demonstrate that the business would be unduly disrupted. That said, employers should consider the unique situation parents may be in as a result of the pandemic when seeking to postpone this leave.
All employees have the right to take unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant such as a child. For example, if children were attending a school that suddenly had to close, there could be an emergency childcare issue that they would need to respond to. There is no specified time limit to this leave, and time off should be that which is reasonable. Usually, it should not last for longer than around two days.