What rights do working parents have when there is a coronavirus outbreak at school?

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of HR Advisory at Peninsula, outlines working parents’ rights if their children’s school is closed and their child has to self isolate.

Mum helps daughter with homeschooling at the table

 

Earlier this month, schools reopened across England in an attempt to kickstart the nation back to some form of normality. Since pupils of all ages have been allowed to return to school, parents have also been able to gradually return to work. However, with thousands of children being sent home after outbreaks in schools the next puzzle piece in the coronavirus jigsaw pertains to parental rights where employees must keep their children at home because those children are self-isolating. This is usually after someone in their year group has tested positive for the virus so the entire year must quarantine for 14 days.

The Government has made clear that a parent will not be classed as ‘self-isolating’ even if their child has been asked to do so unless their child:

  • exhibits symptoms or tests positive for the coronavirus
  • they are experiencing symptoms or have tested positive
  • they have returned from a non-quarantine exempt country abroad
  • or they have been told by the NHS to self-isolate.

The normal rules on self-isolation will apply if a parent is self-isolating. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will be payable to eligible employees, regardless of an individual’s parental status, except in cases where self-isolation is necessary as a result of travel to a non-quarantine exempt country.

Where a parent is not self-isolating, 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, and the coronavirus will likely fall under this. 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 qualifying criteria include the need to make arrangements for the provision of care or because such arrangement has been disrupted, in the case of the death of a dependant or where there has been an unexpected incident involving the dependant at 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, which employers should not reasonably refuse. This is unless, as set out by law, it is not necessary to take the time off or where the amount of time off proposed is unreasonable. The Government advises that the length of time should not usually be more than two days. Ultimately though, employers should consider the coronavirus situation when establishing principles around a ‘reasonable’ amount of time.

Alternatively, employers 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 allowed a temporary period of other flexible working options.



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