Lockdown III has resulted in the further closure of schools in the country with effect from 5th January 2021. Schools remain open for children of parents/carers with a job or career deemed to be “critical” in the Government’s guidance; or for some children that are vulnerable; or, most recently added is the category for those students unable to learn from home due to a lack of IT resource. The impact of school closures is huge on working families, in particular working mothers.
What can you do if you cannot work because your child(ren) are not at school?
1. There is no right to request, or to receive, furlough leave. However, the Government has confirmed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), that contributes to the pay for furloughed employees/workers, can be used for caring responsibilities. It is the employer’s decision though. If it is offered by the employer it can only be implemented with the employee/worker’s consent. The employer is not obliged to make up the pay to a full 100% and therefore it means a reduction in pay to 80%. The CJRS has now been extended until the end of April and can be used flexibly so the employee/worker does not have to be on furlough leave for all of their contracted hours.
2. There is a statutory right to Parental Leave – up to 18 weeks leave per child can be taken by some working parents before the child is 18 years old. However, this is unpaid leave.
3. Annual leave can be used but most employers have a limit on the amount of annual leave that can be taken consecutively and it is always subject to the employer’s approval.
4. A change in shift pattern or working arrangement – an employer cannot force you to work on a different day or time. However, if you have caring responsibilities for a child (and you have worked for at least 26 weeks for your employer) you can make a flexible working request to change your contractual hours of work. An employer can only refuse this request for prescribed reasons as set out in section 80G(1)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996:
• The burden of additional costs
• Detrimental effect of ability to meet customer demand
• Inability to reorganize work among existing staff
• Inability to recruit additional staff
• Detrimental impact on quality
• Detrimental impact on performance
• Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
• Planned structural changes
5. Termination of Employment – you can resign from your employment. Your employer can only dismiss you if it is for one of five permitted fair reasons as set out under the Employment Rights Act 1996 – incapability, misconduct, redundancy, illegality of some other substantial reason.
Questions have been raised in parliament this month suggesting that there should be a legal and enforceable right for parents to request paid, flexible furlough. This comes after a survey of 50,0000 women in the UK suggested that 71% of working mothers who asked to be furloughed for childcare reasons following the closure of schools this month had their requests refused. However, this change has not been implemented.
The above is a very brief summary of the employment law position arising as a result of school closures. Please seek our specific advice so that it is applicable to your own individual circumstances. Remote appointments by various means are available with our employment law specialist Jennifer Carpenter, solicitor and managing partner.