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What are the options for employees who cannot work due to school closures?

As we all know another national lockdown was announced on 4 January 2021, which came into force on 5 January 2021. The result of which, means schools are once again closed.

As a parent myself, I completely sympathise and understand the organisation required to sort childcare at short notice. On this occasion, my child’s school took the decision on Sunday 3 January, not to reopen as planned, following the Christmas break, this afforded me more time (slightly) to make alternative arrangements.

The next concern, even if you manage to make alternatives arrangements, is that we live in uncertain times, and those arrangements may fall through and, in some circumstances, there is no alternative but to inform your employer you are unable to attend work.

So, what are the options for working parents…

The government updated its furlough guidance on 5 January 2021, in light of, the new lockdown, and confirmed that those with caring responsibilities, who are unable to work due to Covid-19, could request to be placed on furlough or flexible furlough.

The guidance states:

You can be furloughed if caring responsibilities arising from Coronavirus (COVID-19) mean you are:

  • unable to work (including from home)
  • working reduced hours

Examples of caring responsibilities include caring for:

  • children who are at home as a result of school or childcare facilities closing
  • a vulnerable individual in your household

If you are placed on furlough then you will receive at least 80% of your normal salary, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. If you request flexible furlough, then you will receive your normal salary for the hours worked and at least 80% of your wage for the unworked hours.

However, it is the employer’s decision whether to agree to place you on furlough, although they should not unreasonably refuse a request. 

If your employer refuses your request, you could:

Request unpaid leave, with no fixed end date, known as indefinite leave, however, this seems detrimental, particularly when the furlough scheme can be utilised.

  • If your absence will be relatively short, for example, you only need a couple of days to source alternative childcare, then you could request holiday or take unpaid dependent leave. However, this type of leave can only be used for a couple of days, and as we know, schools are not set to reopen until after February half term, at present.
  • If your employer unreasonably refuses your request to be placed on full or flexible furlough, then you could submit a formal grievance setting out your concerns.

Employers need to be careful, when considering furlough requests, as it may be that this scenario affects a specific group of employees, which could give rise to indirect discrimination claims.

Free Template Letter

If you need to request furlough because of childcare and/or the school closures we have prepared a letter for you to download and amend which you can find here: Letter to request furlough or flexible furlough due to school closures and/or childcare.

It is a free letter, you just need to download and it will come in Word format for you to amend and send to your employer.

Our team are specialists in employment law, if you have any queries relating to furlough, or any other issue, please contact us on 01983 897003 and we will be happy to help.

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

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