On 18 March 2020 it was announced that all state schools will be closing on Friday until further notice. Private educational establishments and early years settings (including private day nurseries) have also been asked to close by the end of this week.
Employees who have children of school or nursery age are likely to face significant challenges in attending work over the coming weeks. The Government is urging parents to avoid using older family members to assist with childcare. Parents across the country are likely to be faced with having their children at home, long-term, with no childcare provision available whatsoever.
Will the school closure affect all workers with children?
No. The schools will still be open for children who are vulnerable. These are children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Schools will also remain open for children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response in circumstances where the children cannot be safely cared for at home, these workers are defined as 'Key workers'.
If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service. They will then need to make contact with their local authority to confirm schooling arrangements.
If an employee cannot attend work, owing to the closure of schools, would an employer need to pay them?
In this ever-evolving situation the law is often playing catch-up. This development is no exception. There is a statutory right for employees to reasonable time off to care for dependents, which is generally unpaid unless an employer has a more generous workplace policy in operation. This would not, however, cover a long term scenario as it is aimed at emergencies.
There is the alternative option that employees could take parental leave. Unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks is available for all employees to take to care for children under the age of 18 provided they have over one year’s service.
It will be seen, therefore, that whilst there may be statutory rights to not be in work, this is unpaid. Ultimately, employees will be obliged, contractually, to work although in the current climate it may assist employers to allow unpaid leave to ease cash flow.