Coronavirus Q&A: Some of my staff can’t work because they need to look after their children. What should I do?

With schools closed across the UK and Ireland due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we explain how to handle parents taking time off work for dependants.

BrightHR Team

The COVID-19 pandemic means lots of businesses are adapting to new ways of helping people balance their personal and professional commitments. We ask one of our employment law experts to explain how employers should support staff with changing childcare commitments during this challenging time.

Our employment law expert’s answer:

While the COVID-19 pandemic means there are a lot of complicated and confusing things for employers to get their heads around quickly, staff taking time off for dependants remains relatively straightforward.

Yes, the way we are working is changing for lots of us. Some people who are key workers will be still going to their usual place of work, while other people are now working from home for the very first time. But when it comes to taking time off work to look after their children, your employees’ current workplace doesn’t actually matter…

What does matter is whether they can continue working or if they need to stop working temporarily because of their childcare responsibilities.

The normal rules surrounding time off for family and dependants remain in place during this coronavirus outbreak—employees can take a reasonable amount of time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.

Ordinarily, you might need to consider what is ‘reasonable’ and an ‘emergency’—but in the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees needing to take time off work to look after their children because the schools are now closed automatically meets the criteria.  

But remember, while taking time off work to care for dependants is technically unpaid, you could find other ways to support employees where possible in light of the current situation. For example, offering flexible working or remote working (if they’re not already working from home) or allowing staff to take this time off as paid annual leave.

Got a coronavirus question of your own?

If you have a question about the coronavirus and your business, call BrightAdvice today.

One of our legal experts will give you advice based on the most up-to-date COVID-19 guidance, and they’re available 24/7 to answer any questions you might have. Call now on 0800 783 2806.