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September 3, 2020
How Employers Can Prepare for Potential Lockdown in Schools
The reopening of schools this September removes a critical barrier to many working parents returning to the office. But what happens to working parents if schools close again? And how can you, as an employer, manage the disruption?
It’s ‘back to school’ time again in England and Wales, with many children starting the new year after a prolonged time away after lockdown. Their return signifies more freedom and flexibility for working parents, which is driving the government to encourage UK workers to return to the workplace.
However, local lockdowns in Leicester and the North West have demonstrated that swift action is being taken by the government to limit the spread of the virus. With this in mind, employers need to be prepared if there is a spike in COVID-19 cases in the local area, meaning schools (and workplaces) need to be temporarily closed again.
Preventing the Spread of Coronavirus in Schools
Schools are taking a range of measures to minimise the spread of infection. This includes staggered start and finish times to avoid children and parents ‘mingling’. While in school, children will also remain, as far as possible, in a ‘bubble’ group – which may be quite large, but will still prevent them mixing with the entire population of the school.
For this reason, the government have said that it is very unlikely that entire schools will close if there is a case of infection. Rather, classes, bubbles or even entire year groups may be asked to self-isolate.
The Impact on Employers and Working Parents
Staggered Start and Finishing Times
You may already have found yourself on the receiving end of requests to change start and finish times to accommodate the changed school hours. Staggered starts and finishes may only vary by a few minutes, and therefore it may be relatively easy for you to make minor adjustments. If not, it may be that you will need to explore with your employee what other options they may have, including help from family members.
Employees Caring for Self-Isolating Children
If your employee is the parent of a young child who is asked to self-isolate, they may well need to take time off to supervise. If they can work from home, this will probably be the best solution.
Otherwise, employees have a legal right to take reasonable amounts of unpaid leave to care for children or other dependants. This right is intended to provide an opportunity for carers to put alternative arrangements in place, and ‘reasonable’ is normally interpreted as being for a few days.
Because the self-isolating period is 10 business days, if your business deems two weeks as too long a period of discretionary leave to give, or is difficult for your employee to afford as unpaid leave, again you will need to explore how else the time can be made up using a combination of unpaid leave, holiday, home working etc. In this circumstance, is important to speak openly with your employee about this to let them know the various options available and reach a decision together.
It’s important to remember that it is in everyone’s interests, including that of your business, that people who are advised to self-isolate are helped to do so by their employer. If employees are put in a position where they feel they cannot be open about the situation, this could potentially lead to a risk of spreading the virus in your workplace and further disruption to your business.
How Can Moorepay Help?
Our team of Health and Safety Professionals have been supporting our clients run their business throughout COVID-19, including providing health and safety advice as well as payroll, HR and legal support. As a customer, you can access our H&S advice line and onsite consultancy, which gives you bespoke one-to-one support in line with government guidelines to suit your organisation’s requirements.
HR Consultancy & Insurance Manager, Audrey, has a strong background in HR, Employment Law and related insurances in a career spanning over 15 years leading teams in-house and as a consultant supporting clients across retail, education and the B2B sectors. At Moorepay, Audrey heads up the Policy & HR Consultancy team as well as the insurance claims department. With a strong commitment and investment in employee wellbeing, having studied counselling and coaching, Audrey is a qualified Mental Health First Aider and supports our staff on-site.