School Closures and Employment Rights

Posted: Thursday March 19 2020

By: Charlotte Ashton

School Closures and Employment Rights. It’s currently an anxious time for everyone and with the recent announcement that schools will close for an unspecified period of time many parents are concerned about their employment rights if they are suddenly required for childcare.

School Closures and Employment Rights

There are some protections for employees where childcare has broken down for a dependant as well as options around flexible working.

Can I request to work flexibly?

Employees who have 26 weeks service have the statutory right to request flexible working and the employer can only turn down the request based on one of 8 specified business grounds.

However, the timescales for going through a formal procedure are likely to be too long in the circumstances so you should speak to your employer as soon as possible with your ideas and plans to work flexibly.

Some ideas that could help are:

  • Setting out what you can work, and when you need to be unavailable to deal with children
  • If you work part time, offering to spread you time out over more days so you still work your hours but have more time each day to be around for childcare
  • Setting out how you can continue to be engaged with your manager and colleagues
  • Discussing how often the situation should be reviewed

Your employer may be keen for you to carry on as normal as far as is possible and because this is an unprecedented situation both parties should expect to be flexible  and adjust as and when the situation changes.

What is Parental Leave?

Any employee with responsibility for a child is entitled to take up to 18 weeks leave, unpaid, to care for a child. Parental leave means your terms and conditions in relation to notice period, redundancy, and disciplinary and grievance procedures will continue to apply. If you take a period of parental leave you will be protected against being subjected to a detriment or dismissed for taking the leave.

First you should check if your employer has a Parental Leave policy and follow their process to request the period of leave. If there is no policy, you should give notice of your planned leave and the employer may ask you to give evidence of your responsibility for your child.

What about emergency time off for dependants?

If you cannot work flexibly and have exhausted your right to parental leave, you could request time off to deal with dependants. All employees have the right to this time off to deal with emergencies – this can be where your care arrangements have broken down or there are other disruptions.

This time would be likely to be unpaid unless otherwise agreed with your employer. As with parental leave, you will have protection against being dismissed or subjected to a detriment provided you have informed your employer as soon as possible of the reason for your absence and how long you expect to be away from the workplace.

You should speak to your employer immediately about the school closures and effect it has on your ability to come to work and ask if they have a policy about taking time off for dependants.

Can I use my holidays?

You could use your holiday entitlement and request this as normal under your employer’s holiday policy. Where timescales are short, this may mean your employer is not legally obliged to offer you holiday but we would suggest asking anyway as the situation is so unusual.

You could also request a period of unpaid leave, which would be at your employer’s discretion. It would also not come with the protections that parental leave or time off for dependants does.

In the circumstances, this is a tricky developing situation for employers and employees alike. We would advise everyone to be as creative and flexible as possible to ensure businesses can keep running and parents can manage their family situations. If your employer is failing to be flexible or is treating you badly because of the situation, you may have the right to bring claims in the Employment Tribunal and you should seek advice immediately.

School Closures and Employment Rights