If you haven’t been able to listen, we’ve posted the questions and answers below!
What are parents’ employment rights if their children get sent home from school and they have to then self-isolate due to a positive coronavirus case?
There’s a couple of different rights that affect this situation.
Firstly, parents have a right to unpaid time off for dependants. This is for unforeseen emergencies, and the law stipulates that time off for dependants can be taken specifically where a dependant has fallen ill, or where there has been an unexpected incident involving the dependant at school.
If parents are to take time off for dependants they should be aware that, aside from the fact it is unpaid, they are required to inform their employer as soon as reasonably practicable about the absence, the reason for it and the anticipated length of time they will be away from work.
Secondly, if an employee is off work because they’re self-isolating due to someone they live with having coronavirus symptoms, or because they’ve been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that they’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus, they will qualify for Statutory Sick Pay. This won’t cover every situation where a child is sent home from school, but it’s useful for employees to know if they are contacted by the track and trace system.
Individual employers may have different policies that enhance this time off – for example, some employers offer paid time off for dependants, or a higher rate of sick pay than statutory sick pay. The best place to check is the employment contract and any employment handbooks the employer has.
How should employers be facilitating this?
It would be best practice for employers to have conversations with their employees about their policies and procedures before any issues arise. It’s much better to be over-prepared and never have to use the procedure than be scrambling to put something in place in an emergency.
Employees should talk to their boss about how an extended period of time off will be dealt with, and understand what financial support there is available should they take time off.
Can workers get into trouble if they don’t go into work because they’re looking after their child?
As I’ve previously mentioned, parents have a right to unpaid time off for dependants. This is a day one right, so time off can be taken right from the beginning of employment.
Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days, because it is aimed to allow an employee time to organise care for their child. But, as with everything at the moment, this has changed – if a child is self isolating, a parent cannot look at alternative care such as with a family member or childminder, and it’s likely that the time off for dependants will need to be extended in these circumstances.
Unlike flexible working or parental leave, an employer cannot refuse an employee this time off, as long as it is necessary. An employee should not be punished for taking this time off and has the right not to be treated unfavourably for exercising their right to time off for dependants.
Is it fair for employers to force staff members to use their holiday leave to self-isolate if their kid has been instructed to do so?
Employers can tell employees when they need to take annual leave but they have to give twice as much notice as the period of leave they want their employee to take – two days’ notice for one day of leave, for example. So, if an employer wanted to tell an employee to use their sick leave for a two week self isolation period, the employer would need to use their crystal ball to work out when the self isolation would start and give notice 4 weeks before the isolation period.
Some employers may encourage their staff to voluntarily use their annual leave to “top-up” their pay to full pay instead of statutory sick pay. However, there’s a risk that applying this policy only to parents could be discriminatory, which could then be challenged for being an unfair policy, especially if the employer is applying a lot of pressure.
Should employers be encouraging flexible working in these circumstances?
Absolutely. Many employees have found that their role can be done – at least in part – from home, and it might be possible that they can do some work from home during the self-isolation period, or a temporary period of other flexible working options are arranged.
Anything else you’d like to add on the topic?
Guidance on the coronavirus is changing regularly as we understand more about the virus, and with the introduction of local lockdowns and restrictions everyone needs to check if there’s guidance specific to their local area.
Acas – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – provide guidance in all areas of employment law and are keeping everything updated on their website www.acas.org.uk. It’s a really useful resource and a good starting point if anyone is confused about any of their rights as a worker or an employee.
At QualitySolicitors Chapman and Chubb, we understand that you will need personalised advice based around your individual employment situation, so please call us for a Free Initial Assessment on 01773 540480.