Options for parents faced with lockdown-hit work schedules

Options for parents faced with lockdown-hit work schedules

Alex Huston is a Solicitor in the Employment Law Department at Axiom Stone Solicitors, a full-service legal practice with offices Edgware, Mayfair and Harrow in London and Birmingham. In this special column, the legal expert considers the options for businesses and employees over childcare issues during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

With the recent announcement on the latest Covid-19 restrictions that school and college students in England should be taught remotely for the foreseeable future (except for those children of key workers or those who are considered vulnerable), many working parents are now left with the challenge of juggling home-schooling and work, whether at home or in the workplace (if they cannot work at home).

So, what should workers do in these circumstances?

First, there should be an open dialogue and understanding between them and their employer. Whilst some may be able to continue working from home whilst looking after their children, this may not be possible for those with very young children or who have to attend work.

Workers who are also employees may wish to discuss taking statutory parental leave (employees with over one year’s continuous service are legally entitled to four weeks of unpaid leave per year per child until they turn 18 years of age). Otherwise, they could explore taking paid and unpaid leave. Some companies have already indicated they will offer parents additional paid leave to support them during the third lockdown.

Additionally, an employee may informally ask to work on a flexible basis. If this cannot be agreed, an employee can make a formal request. But, given that an employer has three months to respond and can still say no on business grounds, this option is somewhat unhelpful for those parents looking for immediate assistance.

Of course, there is also the option of furlough leave if the individual meets the eligibility requirements and both parties can agree. Government guidance released in November 2020 stated that if you are unable to work due to caring responsibilities, including looking after children, then furlough is available.

If an employer does not act reasonably in dealing with working parents during this current lockdown then they may be at risk of claims of direct and indirect sex discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal. Discrimination claims are of particular risk as they give workers “day 1” rights, unlike constructive unfair dismissal, which requires an employee to have worked for an employer for two years.

by Alex Huston

Alex Huston is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association and joined the employment team at Axiom Stone in November 2020 and works from the Mayfair office in London. She has experience of advising both employers and employees in a range of contentious and non-contentious matters. She has a special interest in sport and the law, particularly from an employment law perspective. Whenever she can, Alex sits on the London Football Association disciplinary panel.

*Info: For questions on this article or any employment-related queries, please feel free to contact Alex: ah@axiomstone.co.uk

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