The Schools are Closed! How to approach employees with parental responsibilities?


Gavin St Pier has today announced that the schools in the Bailiwick will close with effect from 23 March 2020 until the beginning of the Summer term. This is an interim measure, effectively increasing the Easter holiday, to allow for the Public Health team to ‘pause and reflect’ on their position. Delays in the receipt of test results from the UK, means the States are unable to determine whether there is any further impact of the Coronavirus in the community and have closed the schools as a precautionary measure. So how do employers approach employees with parental responsibilities?


Step 1 – Assess and Discuss

Employers may need to make allowances for this situation and consider adopting flexible working measures to ensure this part of their workforce can remain productive during this time, while discharging their working and parental responsibilities.

The first step is to assess who in your workforce have children at school age and whether they are of an age where they require someone being at home to look after them.

Once established employers should have an open and transparent discussion with the staff member to determine whether the employee can work remotely, and if so, provide clarity on what their duties will be and when they will perform the work.

Taking a proactive stance on such discussions and proposals is important to be able to come to a solution which works for both parties, while helping the employee to feel involved in the process.


Step 2 – Options and Measures

Exploring whether both parents can bear the impact of childcare should form part of this discussion. Should both parents be able to share the child caring responsibilities, one option is to ask parents to create a schedule of when each will work and when they will take turns to look after the children. Employees may also be able to make up their hours once the children are asleep or before they wake up in the morning.

Options as part of this discussion may include reducing hours and workloads so it is manageable for the employee to balance parental duties and adding value to their employer while working from home.

Employers may also wish to explore whether the employee may consent to using annual leave allowances or unpaid leave to cover this period. This may be particularly relevant where the employees type of work cannot be performed remotely such as in the hospitality or service industries. Here the question is how flexible can the employer and employee be in rearranging their hours to facilitate the working/childcare balance?

As the school closure is an extension of the Easter break, albeit for the moment, can employees look into extending the arrangements they would have had in place over the Easter where possible. In the absence of kids clubs and other group based options this may be limited.

Ensure any arrangement agreed to are in writing and are for a trial period. Assess and review how it is working for all parties, to determine whether any changes are needed.


Step 3 – Fair and Objective Reasoning and Justification

People being treated unfairly due to family obligations can fall within the realm of sex discrimination. Ensure that the approach you adopt is applied fairly and consistently across all employees to avoid this risk exposure.

The answer is to give all requests due consideration to ensure you do not undermine the employment relationship and trust and confidence duty within it. Applying the same objective reasoning and justification to each employee scenario, and being able to evidence why you have applied it, in the form of a file note or document signed by both parties, is another important consideration.

Further Information

The Focus team are available to assist with specific circumstances and provide bespoke options to assist with this unprecedented situation . Please feel free to get in touch with one of our team by email at [email protected] or by calling 01481 728824.

Focus will continue to monitor the situation and provide practical advice on an ongoing basis.

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