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10th February 2021

Home-schooling Is A Walk In The Park, If The Park Is Jurassic Park

Millions of workers with younger children have reprised the role of home-schooler or learning facilitator for the January lockdown – and many are beginning to feel the strain.  March 2020 offered a vanilla experience of home education for temporary school closures; the novelty was palpable while families baked bread, exercised with Joe Wicks and crafted their way through the weekly, improvised timetable.  Some work was sent from teachers; however, it was often a stop gap with a clear expectation that the children’s return to school was always imminent.  The new lockdown looks completely different, with the introduction of the school timetable, full use of Teams and Google Classroom for some Live lessons, and the ability (and expectation) to submit daily work on-line.

The improvements are noticeable from a content and workload perspective, yet the classroom experience of one-to-one tutoring, community, learning from others and teaching interventions simply cannot be recreated.  Parents therefore may be experiencing a greater home-schooling workload, more complex lessons or technological challenges.  What’s inevitable are constant business interruptions from children seeking support and reassurance that they are on the right track; often at the most inconvenient of times, creating anxiety and stress.

Employers Need To Understand Employee Challenges

It is crucial, as an employer, to understand deeply the employee/parent that may be enduring the challenges of home-schooling and then what type of support can be offered up.  It is important to act reasonably while bearing in mind any potential reputational implications in the future of any decisions made.

An employee is allowed a reasonable amount of time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent.  This option would be exercised to deal with an immediate and unexpected scenario and would cover a school or nursery closing unexpectedly; it is clear that making alternative arrangements for childcare in the current climate is extremely difficult, and the problem is likely to persist throughout the full restricted period.  

Unpaid Leave & Furlough Are Options

For qualifying employees, unpaid parental leave is available as an option, limited to four weeks per year for each child (unless extended by the employer) to be taken as whole weeks.  This is a viable option where there is little or no prospect of the employee being capable of working from home.  HMRC has updated its furlough guidance to confirm that the scheme can be utilised for employees caring for children, whilst schools are closed.  This is a significant development affording employees a viable level of protection, rather than spiralling into unpaid leave or being forced to leave their roles in order to take care of their children.  The amendments could be built into the management teams’ furlough strategy based on any discoveries made whilst exploring the individual welfare needs of the employee.

For those working from home (but who are struggling to juggle the two roles) there is likely to be a bank of holiday allowance to draw on, which may help address the issue.  Paid annual leave need not be seen as wasted when preserving the health and well-being of the individual; simply taking Fridays off, or half a day here and there may be enough to afford the necessary breathing space for the employee/parent to successfully wear both hats.

Flexible Working Should Be Considered

Holistically, flexibility in work time should be considered whenever possible; obvious developments may include avoiding business schedules or tasks that clash with the beginning or end of the school timetable.  Further, it may be possible for service-based workers that are non-customer facing to complete their projects outside of the school day.  There is no right or wrong answer, but the support will always be welcomed and remembered by the employee.

Are you helping to navigate your employees through the challenges of home-schooling and lockdown?  Have you recognised the employee engagement opportunity in managing this problem effectively?  All scenarios are unique on the facts and the Lighthouse employment law team are here to help, so please call 0300 303 5228 in the first instance to discuss.

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