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Could furlough be the solution for parents trying to home school?

View profile for Clare Gilroy-Scott
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The government recently updated its guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, confirming that employers may furlough employees who have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus, such as caring for a vulnerable individual in their household or children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing.

With home-schooling looking likely to extend beyond February half term, this could help to alleviate the burden for struggling parents.

Who is eligible for furlough?

As with any form of furlough leave, for employees to be eligible, they must have been employed and on the payroll on 30 October 2020. It goes without saying that they must also have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID-19, which mean that they are unable to work or are working reduced hours.

Do employers have to put affected employees on furlough?

No, the decision remains with the employer as to whether or not to offer furlough leave to its employees. Employers will want to consider balancing their operational requirements and the practicalities of agreeing to furlough leave with employee relations issues.

A business is unlikely to be able to offer furlough to all of its affected parents so employers will have to consider a clear policy which they can apply consistently amongst their workforce so no one employee is treated more or less favourably than another.

Possible factors employers may wish to take into account when considering a policy include (i) whether the employee can work from home (and if so, whether they can do so flexibly); (ii) the age of their employees’ children; and (iii) whether affected employees have any other support at home or within their childcare bubble.

Can employees do any work whilst on furlough?

No, employees cannot undertake any work for their employer for any time that is recorded as them being on furlough. However, that does not mean that employees need to be on furlough full-time.

Employers could agree to put affected employees on flexible furlough, rather than full-time furlough. Flexible furlough allows employees to work part-time and be furloughed for the rest of the time they would usually work. This may be helpful for employees who can share part-time hours with their partner or can otherwise source part-time childcare.

There is no minimum flexible furlough period (subject to a minimum claim period of 7 days) so this could be a useful temporary arrangement for some employees. However, given that employees will not be able to carry out any work for their employer during the specific days/hours they are on furlough, it may not be appropriate for roles where work demands vary from day-to-day.

Are there any other options?

If furlough is not an appropriate solution, employees may wish to consider the following:

  1. Parental leave - employees with at least one year of service have a statutory entitlement to take time off to care for or spend time with their child. This can be taken in blocks of one week per child, for a maximum of four weeks per year and 18 weeks in total before the child is 18. The time off is unpaid and could therefore be seen as a less appealing option for employees, albeit it provides for a short-term solution.
  2. Annual leave - employees could take annual leave subject to agreement by their employer. If employees want to increase their holiday entitlement for this purpose, employers could consider permitting employees to purchase additional annual leave.
  3. Time off for dependents/ agreed paid or unpaid leave – employers are likely to have a policy enabling parents or carers to take emergency time off to care for dependents. Whilst the statutory right for time off for dependents is usually unpaid and for very short periods, employers may consider reviewing their policies as a temporary measure to extend the amount of time, whether paid or unpaid, that can be taken during the school closure period.

This article was co-authored by Clare Gilroy-Scott and Charlotte Moorhouse. Please contact Clare Gilroy-Scott if you have any specific queries regarding furlough and care responsibilities

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More information

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.