The third national lockdown and closure of schools have again created problems for those with childcare responsibilities and in turn for their employers. But should employers prioritise those with childcare responsibilities when deciding which staff to furlough?

Employees who meet the eligibility criteria (ie they have worked for their employer since before 20 October 2020) and who have childcare responsibilities because of school closures can be furloughed. However, this is not a right and the decision to furlough staff – for any reason – remains with the employer.

The purpose of the furlough scheme is to help businesses survive the current crisis if they cannot operate or they experience a sharp downturn due to the restrictions that are in place. Some businesses must continue, for example, construction and manufacturing, while others will be doing everything possible to remain operational.

For this reason, it is likely to be impractical to furlough all those with childcare responsibilities and the needs of the business must take priority.

While the closure of schools will make it difficult for those workers who have children to care for, both employee and employer need to work together to come up with solutions that don’t simply mean all parents are furloughed.

Where full furlough is not an option for a company, the alternatives available for employees with childcare issues include:

1. Flexible furlough.

This can be used when parents both work part-time and also where it suits the role requirements for the company. The employee will receive 80% of their pay for the hours not worked and 100% for the hours they do work.

2. Using annual leave.

This can be used where the employer is able to agree to the time off. The employee will receive 100% of their pay for the holiday taken.

3. Time off for dependants.

This is a right for parents to take unpaid time off when they are needed to care for their child. Usually, this would be where a nursery suddenly closes, for example, due to flooding, but it would also apply to sudden COVID closures.

4. Parental Leave.

All parents with at least one year of service can request 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. This time off is unpaid and the company can postpone a request if business need requires.

If you are an employer who needs advice on any employment law matter, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. For advice from a qualified employment solicitor whenever you need it, ask us about Beswicks HR.