Coronavirus: What leave and flexible working are parents entitled to during the pandemic?

·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
As employees begin to return to work as the coronavirus lockdown eases, childcare is a key concern for many parents. (Getty)
As employees begin to return to work as the coronavirus lockdown eases, childcare is a key concern for many parents. (Getty)

Non-essential shops are now beginning to open, including clothes, toy and book stores, which means more people are going back to work post-lockdown.

Many are looking forward to getting back to normal life. But returning to work poses a number of questions for those who have been furloughed or working from home for the last few months — including whether it is safe to return.

For parents, childcare is a key concern. “With many children set to remain out of school for some time, employers who are trying to return to normal may see an increase in parents struggling with childcare,” says Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, a HR, employment law and health & safety consultancy firm.

“To this end, they must be familiar with the rights that working parents have. Denying employees their rights in this situation, or treating them poorly as a result of their requesting to make use of their rights, could result in the company facing costly tribunal claims.”

READ MORE: Why the 'motherhood penalty' has been amplified by the lockdown

Flexible working requests 

Employees who have worked for a company for at least 26 weeks have the right to request a change to their working hours. This might be a change to starting and finishing times.

“For example, if they are struggling to look after children, changing their hours may help them to facilitate childcare while also conducting their duties in full,” Palmer says. “Employers do not have to permit these requests. However, they must provide a sound business reason for their refusal.”

All employees have the right to take unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent such as a child.

Working from home

Lockdown has meant employers have had to embrace working from home for the first time and some parents may want to continue doing so. Research has shown that being able to work flexibly is something most of us desire in a job, with one recent survey suggesting that 58% of Brits think flexible working is the future. In fact, more than a third (35%) said they'd rather have flexible working options than a pay rise.

“Employers have been encouraged to let more staff work from home,” says Palmer. “Again, employers do not need to allow this, but homeworking can be requested through the usual flexible working procedures and, in this situation, will need to be treated in the same way as all other flexible working requests.”

READ MORE: Why we need to also be mindful of non-parents during the coronavirus pandemic

Furlough and the Job Retention Scheme

“Although the Job Retention Scheme is to close for new furloughed staff from 30 June 2020 to make way for flexible furlough, the government has confirmed that this does not apply to staff returning from family leave,” Palmer says.

“This means that those returning from maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental or parental bereavement leave can still be placed on furlough past the cut-off date of 10 June.”

Parental leave

Parents who have worked for a company for at least one year have the right to take a period of unpaid parental leave. They can take up to 18 weeks of leave per child to care for them. Under the default scheme set out by the government, time-off is limited to four weeks per year per child and must be taken in blocks of no less than a week, unless the child is disabled.

READ MORE: How to work from home when you have children

“Employees must provide at least 21 days’ notice if they do wish to take parental leave,” Palmer says. “Employers cannot prohibit or prevent the leave being taken, but can seek to postpone it by up to six months if they can demonstrate that the business would be unduly disrupted.

“That said, employers should consider the unique situation parents may be in as a result of the pandemic when seeking to postpone this leave.”

⁠Careers clinic
⁠Careers clinic