On Monday 4 January, another national lockdown was announced for England. The new national lockdown means both primary and secondary schools will be closed until at least mid-February. School closures will result in parents and carers having to undertake an all too familiar balancing act between childcare and work. Whether you are working from home or required to attend work, there are various challenges for all.

What are your options for balancing your work responsibilities with childcare?

  1. Flexible Work Request

One option is to make a flexible work request. Whilst all employees have a right to request flexible working there is no guarantee that the request will be accepted. However, Employers should only refuse the request if there is a good business reason for doing so.  Flexible working allows employees to work in a way to suit their needs; it often includes changes to working hours, working from home, job sharing or working compressed hours

  1. Parental leave Request

Another option is to take parental leave. This is a statutory right which allows parents a period of up to 4 weeks of unpaid leave during each year. This may however be varied by any internal policies that your employer has so these should be checked before requesting parental leave.

  1. Time off for dependents

All employees in the UK are entitled to take dependants leave. This can assist employees in dealing with unexpected problems like school closures. Time off for dependants is not suitable for longer term leave but it may help with immediate issues where you have no childcare.

  1. Furlough

You may be able to ask your employer to furlough you if you can’t work due to childcare. In these circumstances, your employer does not have to agree to place you on furlough, but may might-  especially if the business is adversely affected by lockdown.  Under the furlough scheme, the government will pay up to 80% of an employee’s normal pay, capped at £2,5000 per month. This option is therefore financially preferable to unpaid parental leave.

  1. Annual leave

Another option it to use your annual leave for childcare. Whilst this is not preferable to many, annual leave is paid and therefore is financially more viable than unpaid parental leave. Annual leave should be requested in accordance with the employer’s policies.

  1. Unpaid leave

All employees have a statutory right to take unpaid parental leave. However, another option is to agree a further period of unpaid leave with your employer.

Advice for employers?

Employers should be mindful of not discriminating against anyone when dealing with issues and requests relating to childcare. In relation to childcare, discrimination frequently arises in the form of indirect sex discrimination as typically women undertake the primary carer role.  It is important to consider whether your policies and practices have a disproportionate impact on women.


5th January 2021

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