It has been announced that schools in Wales and Scotland are to close from Friday, and an announcement is expected today to extend the closures to English schools as well. In the meantime, more schools and nurseries faced with staff shortages are having to close their doors to some or all children, presenting a childcare problem for working parents. Other employees may need to care for elderly relations or other vulnerable individuals if day centres are ordered to cease operations temporarily.

There is no obligation on employers to grant employees additional paid time off in these circumstances. If an employer exercises its discretion to do so, this should be done fairly and in a non-discriminatory way.

There are a number of options available:

  • Many employees are already now working from home if their role permits them to do so. For those who are not yet, the employer may allow the employee to do so if their job is one that can be done remotely and the employee's circumstances permit them to do so.

  • Some employees may not be able to work their usual hours, but may be able to work shorter hours, or usual hours but at a different time of day, if the employer is able to accommodate this.

  • Employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid dependent's leave if necessary to care for dependents (spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on the employee for care) or to make arrangements for their care.

  • They may also be able to take unpaid parental leave for up to four weeks per year per child.

  • Alternatively, the employee may ask to take annual leave.

What if the employee is caring for someone confirmed to have coronavirus?

Statutory sick pay should be paid to employees who have COVID-19, or who are unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with government guidance.

However, subject to any further government announcements, an employee who moves in with an elderly or vulnerable relative without symptoms to support them during a period of self-isolation would not be entitled to SSP.

Where statutory sick pay (of £94.25 per week) is to be paid, the government has announced that for coronavirus or possible cases of coronavirus, it should be paid to employees from the first day of absence, rather than the fourth. Although the change in law is not yet in force, it will have retrospective effect from 13 March 2020.

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