Supporting employees with childcare issues during the pandemic

This information sets out considerations and options for school on handling situations where an employee says that they are unable to attend work due to newly arising childcare issues - for example, if the child’s school closes a bubble and says that the child needs to self-isolate for 14 days. In this scenario, the parents and any siblings would not themselves be required to self-isolate unless the child developed symptoms.

These are unprecedented times and headteachers would want to be as flexible as possible, to try and support employees balancing work and family commitments. We also have a responsibility to provide an education to all our students, to be equitable to all staff including those without dependent requirements and school budgets are not unlimited. It is therefore reasonable to discuss and explore all other options prior to granting paid or unpaid special leave, and for the school to observe limits on the amount of paid leave that will be granted during an academic year.

Where parent is used, this refers to anyone with parental responsibility.

Each situation is different, and these questions need to be used sensitively and considered on a case-by-case basis. Further support can be provided by Schools HR.

Is childcare required?

It is the decision of the parent as to whether or not their child can be left alone, and managers should not apply pressure in this regard. However, it is a valid area of discussion where older children are involved. The law does not say an age when you can leave a child on their own, but it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.

A parent has to use their judgement on how mature their child is before they decide to leave them alone, for example at home. The NSPCC says that children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time.

Other considerations might be:

  • the number of hours per day that the colleague works (i.e. how long a child might be left alone for)
  • how close the school (or other parent/carer’s workplace, or to another support mechanism. Example: grandparent’s home. How easy it would be for someone to get back to the child if necessary
  • whether anything can be agreed to support the colleague leaving the child at home. Example: part time attendance at school and part time working from home, or reduced hours?

If yes, can childcare responsibility be shared?

What other childcare options are available? There is an expectation that if there are two parents / carers, then childcare would be shared.
Are there any other members of the household who will be at home all or part of the time, e.g. elder siblings, grandparents?
Is the family in a support bubble or family care bubble with others, who are continuing to have regular contact with the household and could provide childcare?

If someone is self-isolating as they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, the ability to draw on support from outside the household is more limited. Even with national restrictions, it has been acknowledged by the government that there needs to be options for childcare to continue.

Is flexible working an option

Is flexible working an option to enable sharing of care with another parent / carer (e.g. part time attendance at school and part time working from home, or reduced hours, or different times of attendance?

Can the colleague work from home, in their usual role, or carrying out reasonable alternative work?

If there are no other childcare options, then consider whether the colleague could continue to perform their usual duties, or alternative work, from home. This will depend upon the colleague’s role, the age of the children being cared for, and/or the availability of alternative work. If possible, try to identify some useful work that the colleague could carry out working from home all or part of the time.

If necessary, consider special leave

Where an employee is unable to work from home or agree other arrangements to address the childcare issue, they are entitled to a reasonable period of time off work to care for dependents:

  • There are both statutory provisions and local contractual provisions covering time off to care or dependents.
  • The statutory provisions allow for time off, but there is no requirement for this leave to be paid. .

Under local provisions a maximum of 5 days paid special leave can be granted for members of staff. Therefore a school can grant up to 5 days paid leave and then a further period of unpaid leave if the situation with childcare is not resolved.

If you have further questions please contact Schools HR.

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Last updated: 04 Jan 2022

Ealing Learning Partnership (ELP) directorate and associates

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