On Wednesday 18 March, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson stated from Friday 20 March, schools in England would be closed “until further notice”. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she cannot guarantee that schools in Scotland will re-open before September and in Wales and Northern Ireland it’s a similar situation.

Only pupils identified as vulnerable, and those with a parent identified as a key worker will be able to attend school.

This new announcement in the battle against the spread of the coronavirus is certain to cause more upheaval for individuals and businesses alike who are already juggling remote working issues and the possibility of employee self-isolation.

If you have employees who are parents of school aged children, we’ve put together some of the ways you can help to manage the situation. For working parents, we’ve also suggested ways to make juggling parenting and working from home a little easier too.

  • Working From Home Options
    Advise that employees should speak firstly to their line managers and HR teams to understand how they can best balance family and work commitments, especially as this stands to be for a prolonged period of time. The current Government guidelines mean that if older grandparents are the usual emergency go-to option for childcare, this is likely to not be an advised option anymore. Consider if it is possible that the employee could work from home while their children are at home. This might be easier for parents of older children compared to those with much younger children.

    You could discuss a more flexible working arrangement, be realistic with everyone’s expectations, a working parent might be able to adjust their day to perform their work duties but at times that suit their childcare needs. For example starting work earlier in the morning or finishing later into the evening. See also point 4 below for some working set-up suggestions.

  • Unpaid Leave
    If parents can’t make suitable arrangements, consider offering unpaid leave and/or allowing them to use any accrued annual leave (however they may not have sufficient holiday entitlement to cover their total absence). If required, you can instruct an employee to use their holiday allowance by giving them notice equal to twice the number of days annual allowance you are asking them to take – for example, taking five days holiday would require ten days’ notice from the employer.

    Parents can take reasonable unpaid time off work to care for a dependent when necessary because of an unexpected event. The employee is allowed a reasonable amount of time off to deal with the emergency but it should be used in order to make alternate care provisions.

    As an employer, you may choose to pay your employee for time off but it is at your discretion. Make sure your employee contracts, company handbook or intranet site are up to date with the relevant information.

  • Parents who Self-Isolate
    An employee who has chosen to self-isolate – even if not ill themselves – is entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) from day one of their absence.
    Statutory sick pay (SSP) is money paid by the employer, so self-employed workers are not eligible, but casual or agency workers would be.

Working and Managing Childcare – Advice for Parents
It is certainly going to be a difficult time for many parents and care-givers, and as we don’t yet know how long this period of uncertainty will go on for, it is wise to try to establish some sense of structure that will enable both parents and pupils to work from home.

  • Many children will be sent home with a full learning pack with online access to lessons, school work and activities so they should have plenty to keep them occupied for periods of the day
  • Head teachers have indicated that they have been making plans to continue teaching and supporting pupils during the ongoing school closures as best they can, using social media and technologies such as Google Classroom and Maths Watch
  • If you have a separate room to set up as your home office, consider making it “a no go zone” for stay at home children, especially during certain hours or if you’re on a video call for example
    If possible, try to ensure you have plenty of resources for the children to use; puzzles, art supplies, pens, pencils and books etc
  • Keep the day structured. This will allow you to continue your work during the times that the kids are doing their set tasks and they will know that you are doing yours too!
  • Though you may feel pressured to overextend yourself while working remotely in order to prove to your team that you’re actually working, it is important that you carve out time to take a break. For example, for every hour of focused work you complete, you take at least a 10 minute break to grab a snack, walk around or say “hi” to your kids.
  • If you’re in a position where both you and your partner are working from home, alternating shifts with them can make working remotely a lot easier.

These are of course challenging times and changing very quickly. It is advisable to keep a watch on the latest Government announcements and of course we will aim to summarize what these might mean for employers as soon as we can.

The changes to the way we work has been sudden, but it is likely to have far reaching consequences to the working environment of the future. However it does mean that employers need to be aware of how they might respond to future unexpected crises, to ensure they can act in the best way for their business and their employees.

If you need any HR advice and don’t know where to turn, please do contact our team who will be happy to help and advise. Contact us on hello@hrrevolution.co.uk