Schools across the UK remain closed to most children as businesses start to relax lockdown measures. This throws up problems and challenges for working parents who are expected to return to work in the coming weeks but have children at home to look after.


Infant and Junior schools were given the green light to re-open for Reception year, year one and year six last week at the discretion of the school board and parents. Some secondary schools are also open to selected year groups; however, many are not open for a full school day with some children only attending for an hour or two.


Employers should be understanding of their employees who have childcare commitments. However, some businesses that have been closed or are running at a loss, are, understandably, keen to re-open and be fully staffed.


What Can be Done to Help?


There are a few different options that are available to employees who are unable to return to work due to childcare issues because of school and nursery closures.


These are ultimately down to employer’s discretion and will depend on the individual circumstances of the business and the employee.

  • Working from home. If you are able to work from home, then it is worth speaking to your employer to see if remote working is a viable and acceptable option. You may be required to submit this request in line with your Company’s employer’s flexible working policy.
  • Flexible hours. Another option may be to see if you can alter your shift patterns or working hours to allow you to work whilst a partner or family member looks after your children. This may not be viable for some businesses, such as shops for example, who cannot change their opening hours. Again, this request may need to be made in accordance with your employer’s flexible working policy.
  • Furlough. The last date for employers to put staff on furlough was 10 June. The introduction of ‘flexible furlough’ comes into place on 1st July which may be a suitable option to allow some staff to work part-time (if you are already on furlough). This will allow employees to work reduced hours which may help with childcare commitments.
  • Unpaid Parental Leave. Statutory unpaid leave is available to some parents allowing them to take up to 18 weeks per child, for children under the age of 18.
  • Holiday. With many people’s travel plans scuppered due to the UK going into lockdown, you may find that you have surplus holiday to take this year. You may be able to use some of this leave over the coming weeks to prolong returning to work. It is worth noting that  holiday requests are granted at the discretion of your employer and will need to be requested in line with your company’s procedures.

Check Your Contract & Handbook


Before panicking or speaking to your employer, check in the terms of your contract of employment and/or employee handbook in relation to taking leave and/or flexible working allowances.


However, given the unusual circumstances of coronavirus and national school closures, you may find that your employers are more flexible, regardless of the standard company policies.


Communication is Key


In any tricky situation good communication is the key to finding a resolution. If you have concerns about coming back to work, then speak to your manager in good time. Do not leave it to the evening before you are due back to raise problems.


Thinking outside the box, being creative and adaptable will help both you and your employer. If you have suggestions of what might work to help you get back into the workplace or enable you to work from home, then make them known and be prepared to negotiate.


It is best to talk to your manager directly over the phone or via video conference, but it is also sensible to ask for agreed actions to be put in writing.


Keep in touch with your employer regularly if you are remaining off work or are working from home.


Advice When Faced with Disputes


If you believe that your employer has unreasonably declined flexible working requests, failed to make reasonable adjustments for you or you find yourself being unfairly dismissed due to your responsibilities as a parent, then you may need to seek legal advice.


Call our friendly and experienced Employment Law Team on 01256 844888 or email enquiries@lambbrooks.com to see if we can offer guidance.


Other articles you may be interested in reading:

Returning to Work: 10 Top Tips

Received a Settlement Agreement? What to do Next?

Top 10 Tips for Working From Home


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.