Balancing work and home schooling - what are the options?
Posted on 25th January 2021 at 23:34
We are into our 4th week of home schooling and cracks are beginning to show, if they have not already taken a strong hold. With the government now saying that schools may be closed until Easter, how can employers further support parents who are home schooling and caring for children with schools being closed. When it was only thought to be a few weeks, there was the feeling that people will muddle through, but now it looks more longer term, employers can offer a variety of support to employees with caring responsibilities. Believe me, home schooling two primary school children while both parents are working is no easy thing. The expectations from school are higher than the first lockdown with full days of lessons and the pressure from employers to deliver as normal is placing a lot of pressure on working parents.
So what are the options and what can be considered? Flexibility and understanding from both parties are key. Having open and honest conversations about the challenges school closures are placing on parents and finding the right solution and support from employers will build trust and long term good will. It will also support employees mental and physical health and maintain engagement.
Flexing working hours to shift the working day to be able to home school for a few hours in the morning might be a good option. This could let parents focus on school work without being interrupted with work calls which leaves them more able to focus on work later in the day (although there still maybe a child popping up on the odd zoom call!). If both parents are working from home they could stagger their working day to tag team the childcare responsibilities. Some parents are happy to work in the evenings once the school day is over or the children are in bed. Employees will usually have lots of suggestions about how they can make it work so talking to them about how and when they want to work in the short term may solve the problem.
A reduction in hours
A temporary reduction in hours may be a welcome relief for some parents to balance work and childcare. The obvious downside for employees is the loss of income although with the reduction in outgoings in many households it might be something employees are willing to consider in the short term.
Taking annual leave or holiday might also be a good option. Many employees have built up large holiday pots as they've either not been able to take it or they've only taken the minimum statutory amount as they've not been able to go anywhere or had plans cancelled. The positive for an employee is that it is paid at full pay and the upside for the employer is it reduces holiday balances.
Furlough or flexi-furlough
Currently, parents can ask to be furloughed for childcare reasons, but employers can reject the request especially if they have work that needs to be done. If an employee can’t work from home because of their role, or if they are unable to work (including from home) due to caring responsibilities and homeschooling because of school closures, they can be furloughed, if eligible, through the coronavirus job retention scheme. The government guidance on the extended scheme confirms that furlough is available to people who are required to stay home because they have childcare responsibilities resulting from coronavirus. Employers do not have to agree to furlough employees but there may be the option of flexi-furlough which means that some work still gets done. The obvious attraction for the employer is they can claim 80% of wages back through the scheme providing they meet the furlough criteria.
Unpaid parental leave
The obvious downside to this for the employee is that it is unpaid. They can request to take unpaid parental leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 1 year and their child is under 18 years old. Employees can take 4 weeks per child per year and the leave can be taken in blocks of 1 week at a time (if a child is receiving DLA or PIP, it can be taken in blocks of 1 day). It's normally unpaid. Employers might be able to postpone parental leave if the business would be particularly disrupted but this may be difficult to argue in the current circumstances. Strictly speaking, you need to give 21 days’ notice to take unpaid parental leave, but given the circumstances, employers may be flexible with this.
Paid time off
Some employers are offering working parents homeschooling leave where they are allowing parents to take a couple of hours off with pay every morning to focus on school work or other similar schemes. Zurich insurance have taken it one step further by offering parents ‘lockdown leave’ where employees can take an additional 10 days paid leave while primary and secondary schools remain closed. This is to help them balance work and childcare commitments and other caring responsibilities.
The implications of how employers are handling these requests and how employees are reacting to them will last much longer than this lockdown and no doubt the businesses who support employees who are trying to balance caring responsibilities while working will be in a better place post lockdown. There isn't one size fits all approach and what might work for one employee or one business might not work for another. The trust and confidence, the give and take, the loyalty and willingness to go the extra mile will impact on engagement and see those businesses thrive whenever we return to whatever normal will be.
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