Since pupils of all ages and year groups have been allowed to return to school, the next question many organisations may face is what to do if their employee’s children are sent home to self-isolate.
Schools may now be reopening across the country, but all face the ever-present danger of COVID-19. Current rules stipulate that children may be told to self-isolate if someone in their year group has tested positive for the virus, for a period of 14 days. Depending on the age of the child, this may cause problems for some employees who need to facilitate urgent childcare.
Should working parents isolate too?
Firstly, the government has made it clear that a parent will not be classed as ‘self-isolating’ even if their child has been asked to do so – unless their child exhibits symptoms or tests positive for the coronavirus; they themselves are experiencing symptoms or have tested positive; they have returned from a non-quarantine exempt country abroad, or they have been told by the NHS to self-isolate.
The normal rules on self-isolation will apply if a parent within a workforce is self-isolating. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will be payable to eligible employees, regardless of an individual’s parental status, except in cases where self-isolation is necessary because of travel to a non-quarantine exempt country.
Time off for dependants
Where a parent is not self-isolating, they are legally entitled to unpaid time off for dependants. The employment right to this time off is intended to be for unforeseen emergencies only, of which the coronavirus will likely fall under. The law stipulates that time off for dependants can be taken specifically where a dependant has either fallen ill, is injured, or is assaulted.
If parents are to take time off for dependants they should be aware that, aside from the fact that it is unpaid, they are required to inform the organisation as soon as reasonably practicable about the absence, the reason for it and the anticipated length, which organsations should not reasonably refuse. This is unless, as set out by law, it is not necessary to take the time off or where the amount of time off proposed is unreasonable – the Government advises that the length of time should not usually be more than two days. Ultimately though, organisations should consider the coronavirus situation when establishing principles around a ‘reasonable’ amount of time.
Under normal circumstances, an organisation is likely to only deal with a relatively small number of instances of time off for dependants throughout the year. However, on rare occasions such as the coronavirus, the number of instances may well increase.
Organisations may find it beneficial to communicate with employees about how an extended period of time off will be dealt with. This is in the event that an employee either does not ask for time off for dependents because they would like to be paid during their absence, or if they themselves end up having to self-isolate because they are experiencing symptoms or they have tested positive for the virus.
It may be that employees are permitted to:
- work from home where possible – this will be the best option where children are asked to self-isolate more than once or they need to self-isolate and cannot leave the house
- use their accrued annual leave for the period that they need to look after their children or self-isolate
- allow flexibility in their start and finish times to allow them to carry out a caring schedule with others that they live with, if applicable
- a period of furlough for eligible employees under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – ending on 31 October 2020
- authorise weekend work only where possible – this may be beneficial for employees who have partners who do not work on weekends and can stay with children during this time.
During these unprecedented times, it is always a good idea for employers to consider the best way to manage staff that will both benefits said members of staff and the wider business as a whole.