What are the options if my child’s school is shut?

New year, return of the homeschool conundrum for many working dads. Here’s the options if your child’s school is shut

Microscopic view of Coronavirus

 

Working dads may be facing a less than happy new year with the news that schools in London are closed and the rest of the country potentially going to follow suit.

That means another childcare headache.

However you do have rights and options. It’s worth making yourself familiar with those before engaging with the question of how you and your family are going to cope with homeschool again.

Furlough

Last month the government extended the furlough scheme through to the end of April this year. That means that your employer can claim 80% of your wages off the government. But the rules of the scheme mean that you can’t work while on furlough. That could be useful if you’re out of options when it comes to childcare.

If you can’t work due to childcare issues you can ask to be furloughed, whether you’ve previously been on furlough or not.

There’s more details on the scheme here but crucially for working dads employers must ensure their decisions are fair and not discriminatory. A boss that furloughs mums who need to do childcare but treats dads differently is leaving themselves open to challenge.

More on the furlough scheme here.

Homeworking

The current advice is to work from home if you can. Depending on the age of your kids it might be possible to combine homeschool and working from home.

Most employers are applying common sense and a bit of flexibility. If yours is not and demands that you are solely focussed on work while also having children home from school then in the first instance it’s probably worth considering how much longer you want to stick with that employer. But you do have the right to apply for a flexible working arrangement if you think that would help. There’s a huge variety of flexible options out there. Moving your hours around or temporarily reducing them might be worth considering.

For more on making a flexible working request see this.

Time off for dependants

This is usually unpaid. Though some firms have introduced ‘Covid leave’ which is paid.

It’s meant to be used in ‘unexpected circumstances’ and last a few days or even just a few hours to give you time to organise care arrangements. (It’s not just for childcare but any dependant including a partner or older relative that needs care.). The crucial thing about it is that it must be ‘reasonable and necessary’. That’s a fairly fluid definition in the current circumstances. As ever, the best approach is to be open and honest with your employer.

Unpaid parental leave

Where time off for dependants is open ended in that you can use it as often as necessary unpaid parental leave is limited. You can take four weeks per child per year. And the clue is in the name, it’s unpaid. It also requires 21 days notice that you intend to use it. But with the government giving significantly less than three weeks notice of its intentions when it comes to schooling employers may be willing to overlook that stipulation.

Annual leave

It would be a bit of a kicker to use up holiday entitlement at the start of January because the kids are off school but it’s always an option. The benefit is that you still get paid your full salary. On the down side employers will have their own rules about how late you can ask to take annual leave.

Childcare

You can get a friend or family member to look after the kids. You’d have to form a ‘childcare bubble’ and certain conditions must be met. This must only be used for childcare. And you can only form one childcare bubble with one other household. But it does allow for informal childcare and even overnight stays where necessary. However childcare bubbles are only an option where the kids are aged below 14.

You can also form a support bubble with a single person household, such as a grandparent. That person effectively joins your household and so children can go to them for care. But, again, there are clear rules about this set up that you can check here.

Different nations

Most of the above applies in England. And while the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are broadly similar you must check the details against your administration’s guidance before taking any action.





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