Pressure on working parents

The new year has brought fresh restrictions to the UK, with different rules applying in each of the devolved nations.

From 5 January 2021, England is in its third period of national lockdown, which includes the closing of schools to the majority of students and the provision of remote learning. The restrictions are set to remain in place until the middle of February 2021 at the earliest.

Therefore, many working parents across the country, once again, face the difficulty of not only homeworking but increased childcare commitments and home schooling responsibilities.

Before the latest lockdown, ACAS guidance provided that:

  • Employers should consider more flexible homeworking arrangements including: working different hours, agreeing that employees may not be able to work a full day or a full week, reducing work targets and flexible deadlines.
  • Where that is not possible, employers and employees should openly communicate about the possibility of furlough for home schooling reasons.

Furlough for home schooling employees

With schools closing, increasing numbers of working parents may ask their employers to place them on furlough leave, due to concerns over childcare arrangements. On 5 January 2021, HMRC updated their guidance for employers on how to check which employees they can put on furlough to benefit from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

Whilst it is not mandatory, the guidance states that employers can consider furloughing employees who have caring responsibilities arising from Coronavirus. 

The guidance now states:

“Your employee is eligible for the grant and can be furloughed, if they are unable to work, including from home or working reduced hours because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus, such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in their household.”

However, employees do not have an automatic right to be furloughed. This is ultimately at the discretion of the employer. There are many reasons why an employer may not wish to furlough an employee, including business needs (if the employee’s job role is essential to the business), or due to the fact that HMRC will be publishing details the employers who claim through the CJRS.

Having said that, employers will need to be wary that rejecting a request to be furloughed for childcare purposes may create employee relations issues and affect morale and productivity within the business.

Alternatives to furlough

There are alternatives to being furloughed that may also be worth considering with employees, including:

  • Annual leave;
  • Additional unpaid leave;
  • Flexible working requests;
  • Parental leave;
  • Time off for dependents; and
  • Requesting to work from home whilst also providing childcare (if possible and appropriate).

The furlough scheme continues to be in place until 30 April 2021 and employers are likely to face ongoing requests for flexibility and support, including requests to be furloughed to look after children, for some time to come.

Extremely vulnerable employees

The announcement on 4 January 2021 also stated that those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable should shield once again and should not work if they cannot do so from home. Employers must take this seriously given their health and safety obligations to their employees.

An employee who is shielding would be due Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if their employer does not furlough them.  This applies even if they are not sick, due to the various changes that were made to the SSP regulations during the early stages of the pandemic in Spring last year.

Individuals who are not shielding are also entitled to SSP if they are required to self-isolate where:

  • they, someone they live with or someone in their support bubble has coronavirus symptoms;
  • they have been told to self-isolate, having been in contact with someone with coronavirus symptoms; or
  • they have been advised to do so prior to going into hospital for surgery.

Sick pay options

Employees may also be eligible for contractual sick pay if they are required to self-isolate. However, this will depend on the wording of the particular sick pay scheme. Employers should review their contractual sick pay wording to understand when it will and will not apply.

Whilst self-isolation or shielding is now deemed to be ‘incapacity’ for the purposes of SSP, where an employee is able to work from home whilst shielding or self-isolating, they should be permitted to do so and would, therefore, continue to be entitled to receive full pay.

We will continue to update you as the Government issues more information regarding the national lockdown and how this may affect you or your business.

Here to help

For more information visit our dedicated COVID-19 section. Myerson’s specialist Employment Team are also here to help provide more information regarding the changes applied in the national lockdown. Please call us on 0161 941 4000 or email for more information.