Due to the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a new national lockdown, including schools in England and Wales being shut until mid-February, many employers and employees alike have been wondering what these new changes will mean for working parents.

On Monday, the TUC called for all employers to offer furlough to employees that have been impacted by school closures, allowing these workers to look after their children. The trade union centre stated that many employers are unaware that parents can be furloughed due to childcare responsibilities.

Therefore, HRreview looked into the different ways employers can respond to different work requests made by working parents.

Can working parents be placed on furlough due to childcare responsibilities?

According to the Government’s guidance, working parents can be placed on furlough as a result of needing to look after their children.

The Government’s guidelines outline that employees can be furloughed due to “caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus” which does include caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing.

In addition, employees can also be furloughed in the case that they need to look after a vulnerable individual in their household. This also applies if the employee is clinically extremely vulnerable themselves.

However, the decision on whether to furlough staff is ultimately up to the employer who do have a right to refuse.

Can working parents be placed on flexible schedules due to the need to look after their children?

Sarah-Jane Watson, employment partner at Keystone Law, argues that many parents will now need “greater flexibility” as they grapple with working from home and simultaneously looking after children.

Sarah outlines many different ways that employees can ask to be placed on a flexible work schedule including:

  • Making an informal request – Employees have the right to ask for temporary changes to be made to their work schedule. It could be agreed that the hours will revert back to the previous arrangements once schools open again.
  • Making a formal request – Employees that have been working for at least 26 continuous weeks can make a flexible working request, which must be considered in a ‘reasonable manner’ by employers, within a 3 month decision period.  Employers can only reject a request for one or more of 8 prescribed statutory reasons (including the burden of additional costs, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, inability to reorganise work among existing staff and detrimental impact on performance). However, that acceptance of a flexible working request would result in a permanent change to your terms and conditions.
  • Requesting to take parental leave – This is a form of statutory unpaid leave available to employees with not less than 1 year’s continuous service.  Parents can take up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child up until the child’s 18th birthday.
  • Annual leave – Any required notice must be given, as per the employee’s work contract.
  • Asking to be placed on furlough as mentioned above 

What are the current furlough rules and what does this mean for employers?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was extended until the end of April. As it currently stands, employers can claim 80 per cent of employees’ salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

Employers are only expected to cover pension and National Insurance contribution costs but can top up the remaining 20 per cent of an employee’s salary if they choose to do so.

You can claim for employees on any type of employment contract, including full-time, part-time, agency, flexible or zero-hour contracts.