The implications on care arrangements.

With the closure of schools due to COVID-19, and those with relatives in the high risk category, employers may face an increase in the number of requests for time off for dependants. Outlined below are the key HR takeaways we believe you need to know.

Time off for dependants 

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event or emergency. There's no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer this. Furthermore, the amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take two days off, and if more time is needed, they must take another form of leave, such as holiday.

Should a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household, become ill as result of COVID-19, requiring the employee to take dependency leave, employees should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum for this time. The individual will also need to follow self-isolation guidance. If more time is then needed, the individual must take another form of leave.

Working parents 

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents have been asked to keep their children at home, wherever possible, with schools only remaining open to children of key workers to attend. Furthermore, with COVID-19 affecting older people more severely than younger people, grandparents have been advised not to assist with childcare, making this time even more challenging for working parents.

There is limited statutory provision for time off for employees who have to look after their children when schools, nurseries and other childcare providers are closed. Typically, if an employee needs emergency time off for childcare or needs to make new arrangements, and if their employer is in agreement, they would use dependency leave. With the statutory right to time off for dependants being unpaid leave, it is necessary to take action due to the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant.

Although some employers may have a policy in place which is more generous than the statutory minimum, this does not cover extended time off for employees to look after their children themselves. The government advice on self-isolation and social distancing during time is also likely to make this even more difficult, with employees having no option but to stay at home themselves.

Relaxing your policy

If employers have a policy in place stating employees should not be responsible for looking after their children at the same time as working from home, during this period, this may need to be relaxed.

We suggest: 

  • Talking to your affected employees about any time off that might be needed 
  • Agreeing regular conversations so both parties can plan ahead
  • Agreeing temporary flexible working arrangements, for example, changing working hours to allow for child care. If any agreements are made, these should be made in writing. 

Where this is not possible, other alternative arrangements, such as agreeing to a period of paid or unpaid leave, will need to be considered. Employers can require employees to take annual leave by giving them the appropriate notice. Employers could also consider utilising the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 

COVID-19 volunteering 

Employers should also be mindful that some elderly and high risk people in our local communities may be struggling to meet some of their basic needs due to self-isolation. Therefore, volunteering opportunities could be offered. Whether this is implementing a temporary volunteering policy or extending the one in place to offer more hours (being mindful of work commitments and line managers’ approval). Where volunteering is offered, we recommend encouraging everyone volunteering to consider the associated risks to themselves and those around them, you can view the government’s safeguarding factsheet here. 

This article was last updated on 30 March 2020.

Speak to an expert

At Buzzacott HR Consultancy, we provide guidance on HR legal compliance, as well as, practical measures. If you are an employer and you require any support or guidance on how the above may be affecting you and your employees, please contact Sarah Dalton using the form below.

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