School Closure and Dependants’ Leave Guidance

With schools closing for the second time, this is causing concern for both employees and employers with regard to how they will need to deal with childcare and possible extended period of absence. We’ve outlined some information on what options are available in terms of dealing with such absences.

Dependants’ Leave

Currently, where there has been an unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant, an employee is entitled to take reasonable time off to deal with such disruption.

This is called dependants’ leave and there is no statutory right to be paid for this however this depends on the provisions within the employee’s contract. Some organisations pay full pay for a defined period, others don’t. It applies to all employees, irrespective of their length of service or whether they work full or part time or are employed on a permanent, temporary or fixed term basis.

Furlough

The Government has extended the furlough scheme until 30 April 2021 and whilst the scheme provides that employees can be placed on furlough as a result of needing to look after children due to school closures, there is no obligation on an employer to do so.

Any employee who is finding it difficult to cope with childcare responsibilities should approach their employer in the first instance to discuss the possibility of being placed on furlough. It may be that just one parent wishes to take on the full responsibility of childcare while the other parent continues to work. However, to maximise any chances of a furlough request being approved, employees should aim to be as reasonable and flexible as possible when discussing options, for example considering flexible furlough and sharing childcare responsibilities with a partner or other family member if appropriate.

Options

Parents are now facing an unprecedented extended period whereby they have no childcare facilities and if they take dependants’ leave, in most cases this would be unpaid, which would cause a large number of families financial hardship. Such extended absences can also cause difficulties for employers who will have to cover such absence due to having work that needs to be carried out. Therefore, it is important that employers and employees look at this in a more pragmatic way and consider working together to find a solution that suits everyone.

We set out below some possible options to consider:

  • Working from home
  • Working from home and flexible hours
  • Temporary variation to working hours / pattern
  • Unpaid dependants’ leave
  • Furlough and Flexible Furlough

Employee Protection

If an employee enforces their right to take dependants’ leave they are given protection under the Employments Right Act not to be unfairly dismissed or suffer a detriment for doing so.

As can be seen from the above, we would advise employers to “think outside the box” to ensure that both employers and employees get through this difficult period without undue hardship where possible.

If you have any queries or wish to discuss any possible alternatives to taking unpaid dependants’ leave, please contact Katie Hodson, Partner and Head of the Employment, on 0161 475 7670 or email [email protected].