*PLEASE FOLLOW ANY GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE OR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA AS GUIDANCE ON THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) IS CHANGING DAILY*
The Government no longer recommends that it is necessary to keep children in consistent groups (‘bubbles’) or to keep groups apart as much as possible, unless in cases of an outbreak within a school or childcare provider.
In addition, those who are fully vaccinated or aged under 18 years and 6 months no longer have to isolate if they are a ‘close contact’ of a positive case. This may cause problems for parents with children who have tested positive for coronavirus, who are not legally required to self-isolate themselves.
This article covers frequently asked questions on what to do if your child tests positive and has to stay at home, but you are not legally required to self-isolate.
You might also want to look at our other coronavirus pages:
- What are my rights?
- Redundancy during coronavirus
- What financial support is there for working families?
- Rights for new and expecting parents
- Rights for carers and clinically extremely vulnerable
- Return to work and health and safety
Furlough information sheets
This document of key information about childcare, caring, the clinically extremely vulnerable and furlough might be useful to show to your employer.
What to do if your employer refuses to furlough you.
Template letter to request furlough
This letter provide a template you can use to request furlough for childcare reasons.
My child has tested positive for coronavirus, but I have tested negative and do not legally have to self-isolate due to being fully vaccinated or exempt
I have no childcare. What can I do?
Work from home
The Government guidance no longer requires people to work from home if possible and the Government have said they ‘expect and recommend a gradual return’ to the workplace.
However if you have no childcare available, and if it is at all possible for you to work from home, you should ask your employer to consider allowing you to work from home. The impact that working from home has on your employer’s business may be taken into account when making the decision of whether or not you can work from home.
Request furlough for childcare
If you can’t work from home, until 30 September you can request to be furloughed if eligible through the coronavirus job retention scheme aka ‘furlough’. Please note that the furlough scheme ends on 30 September 2021 and your employer is currently obliged to make at least a 20% contribution to your wages if you are furloughed, whereas previously the government covered the amount of furloughed employees’ wages up to 80%.
Your employer is not required to furlough you but should consider your request.
See our Furlough Pages for more information on eligibility and how to request to be furloughed for childcare.
Negotiate a reduction of your hours
You can negotiate a reduction in hours with your employer if this would allow you to balance work and childcare while your child completes their self-isolation period.
If your employer does not agree to your informal conversations, you can put in a formal flexible working request. However, your employer has three months to make a decision and could refuse if it would have a detrimental impact on their business.
For more information, see our page on How do I ask to change my working hours?
We’ve created a template letter to request flexible working during coronavirus that you can use.
Take time off for dependants
You also have the statutory right to take time off for dependants to deal with an emergency involving a dependant – not just children, but other dependants too, like a partner or parent. But this is unpaid unless it is a perk in your contract or employer’s policy.
You can take time off that is necessary because of an unexpected disruption in care arrangements. Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days to allow you time to organise the care of your dependant. But in today’s circumstances, some people have no other care options they can organise, so our view is that time off can last much longer. There is no limit to how often you can take time off for dependants, but the time taken must be reasonable and necessary.
Your employer might challenge the time off if they believe the disruption in care was foreseeable and not ‘unexpected’. It is true that if you knew about a situation beforehand, it will be more difficult to show that the time off was necessary. Your employer can expect you to show that you tried to make alternative arrangements for care. But if you can show there is nobody else who can help, time off for dependants should be considered reasonable and necessary, even if you knew about the situation in advance.
You should not be punished for taking time off for dependants. In legal terms, you have the right not to be treated unfavourably for taking time off for dependants. So your employer should not penalise you in any way once you return to work from taking this type of time off.
Unpaid parental leave
You can take unpaid parental leave if you are an employee, have a child (or children) under 18, and have worked for your employer for at least one year. You can take 4 weeks per child per year, up to a maximum of 18 weeks per child.
Parental leave is a form of statutory leave (like maternity or paternity leave) and must be taken in one-week blocks. If your child is disabled and on Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, you can take it in blocks of one day.
Parental leave is unpaid, but your employer’s policy might be more generous. You should check your contract and employer’s policies.
Strictly speaking, you need to give 21 days’ notice to take unpaid parental leave. But under the circumstances, your employer may let you take the leave earlier than the required notice. If your employer insists that you give them 21 days’ notice for parental leave, you may be able to take time off for dependants instead.
Your employer cannot deny you your right to take parental leave and cannot change the amount of leave you are requesting. However, your employer might be able to postpone parental leave for up to six months if there would be a serious disruption to the business. It may be difficult for an employer to argue that it is reasonable to postpone parental leave in the current circumstances. If your employer postpones your leave, they must write to you explaining why and suggesting a different start day.
Some employers offer special leave, such as a form of compassionate leave for special circumstances. If you can take negotiate to take a period of special leave, then this could be a good option. Whether special leave is paid or unpaid is determined by your employer’s policy or practice.
Finally, your employer may also allow you to take some annual leave. The benefit of this is that it would be paid at your full salary. However, it would reduce the amount of annual leave you have for the rest of the year.
If you are suddenly left with less income or without income, there may be certain benefits that you could claim. See our page on financial support for working families during coronavirus for more information.
Can my employer make me take unpaid leave?
Potentially. Your employer should agree to put you on furlough for childcare if you are eligible. The Government has urged employers to be reasonable and to use the furlough scheme, while it exists, for employees who cannot work because of childcare issues caused by coronavirus.
You can use our template letter to speak to your employer and persuade them to put you onto furlough.
If your employer refuses to furlough you, see our detailed advice.
Alternatively, if you take annual leave to cover the period of your child’s self-isolation, you can be paid for the time off.
You should check your employment contract and employer’s leave policy carefully to see if they offer a form of paid family, emergency or compassionate leave above the legal minimum.
However, unless your employer agrees to furlough you or you have an entitlement to paid leave, your employer may insist that you take unpaid leave.
If your income is reduced as a result of taking time off work or reducing your hours, see our financial support page for more information on what help is available.
I’m interrupted by my children at home, and my employer insists that I take unpaid leave
It is true that, when you are working, your employer has the right to expect that you are devoting your attention to working rather than looking after your children.
However, this is an exceptional situation and many employers are exercising common sense and flexibility to allow employees to reduce or vary their working hours or pattern to enable them to work around childcare needs.
Until 30 September 2021, you can ask to be furloughed under the current guidance if you are unable to work (including from home) due to your childcare or caring needs as a result of COVID-19. See our Furlough Pages for more information.
You can also be furloughed on a part time or flexible basis, meaning you can work part time and can be furloughed for hours or days you can’t work.
You can also ask for flexible working. If you think working flexibly (e.g. moving your hours around to fit around childcare) is an option in your role then you should raise that with your employer. Explain how the pattern could work for you and them.
If your employer does not agree to your request then you have the option to make a formal request for flexible working. If you only want to change your contract temporarily, you should make this clear. Making a formal request may not provide an immediate outcome because your employer has 3 months to get back to you, and they may refuse your request. You can ask your employer to respond in a shorter time-frame, or take some leave while your employer considers your request.
Can I be put on furlough if I cannot continue working for childcare caring reasons?
Yes, until 30 September 2021 you can be put on furlough for childcare/caring reasons related to coronavirus. See our dedicated page on furlough for more information.
If you have childcare and/or caring responsibilities and your employer refuses to place you on furlough or flexible furlough, please see our information sheet on what to do if your employer refuses to furlough you.
Other options available would be:
- taking annual leave
- using unpaid time off for dependants. Please note that time off for dependants only applies to employees (not workers or the self-employed).
- Using parental leave. Parents who are employees and have at least one year’s service are entitled to 4 weeks of unpaid parental leave per year per child. There are notice requirements for the leave but in such circumstances your employer may waive these.
If you cannot agree working arrangements which enable you to look after your children and you are worried about the financial implications of taking unpaid leave, see our financial support page for more information.
Can my employer make me arrange other childcare?
If your child has been instructed to self-isolate or has symptoms
If your child has tested positive for coronavirus or has symptoms, they will need to self-isolate. See the NHS guidance on when to self-isolate.
If your child is instructed to self-isolate, it is very important that they stay home and do not mix with any other households, including a childcare bubble. You may also need to self-isolate if you or someone in your household tests positive or has symptoms and you are not exempt due to vaccination.
If your employer insists that you attend work, you should explain to your employer that your child is required to self-isolate, and if it is at all possible for you to work from home, you should. If you are unable to work, including from home, you can ask to be furloughed for childcare purposes. You may also be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you or someone in your household tests positive or has symptoms of coronavirus.
If your employer refuses to place you on furlough, please see our information sheet on what to do if your employer refuses to furlough you.
If you are unable to work from home or they do not agree to furlough you, you will need to take time off for dependants or unpaid parental leave.
I was forced to take unpaid leave and I am struggling, is there any financial support?
If you are worried about the financial implications of taking unpaid leave, see our financial support page for more information.
Here is a summary of some options for financial support:
If you are not already claiming any other benefits, you may be able to claim Universal Credit if you are on unpaid leave. Beware that making a claim for Universal Credit will replace any existing claims you have for working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based employment and support allowance and income-based jobseeker’s allowance and you would not be able to return to those benefits.
If you are already claiming Universal Credit, and you take unpaid leave, your income will be reduced. If this is the case, you should inform your Work Coach of your reduction in income. If you are already claiming Universal Credit, your award may increase while your income is lower during the period of unpaid leave.
The government has created some guidance to help people understand Universal Credit and any specific coronavirus rules: Already claiming benefits – Understanding Universal Credit
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have a useful online tool about UC during coronavirus: Ask CPAG | Universal credit during the COVID-19 outbreak
Council Tax Reduction/Support
You may be able to claim a reduction in council tax – you should contact your local council to see if you can get a reduction (which your local authority may call “council tax support”).
If you get a reduction, make sure you tell your local authority about any changes to your income, including any other benefits you get. You can apply for a council tax reduction through the government website: Apply for Council Tax Reduction.
Contact Mortgage/Utilities/Credit Provider
If you pay a mortgage, you could ask your mortgage provider for a payment holiday for 3 months to free up some more money during this time. If you are renting and struggling to pay your rent Citizens Advice and Shelter provide advice on what you should do.
If you are struggling to pay bills, you could also consider contacting your electricity, gas or water company and credit card company to see what arrangements they can offer you. For further information on what to do if you are struggling to pay your bills, rent or mortgage see Citizens Advice.
Test and Trace Support Payment
If you live in England and have tested positive for coronavirus or you’ve been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, or you are a parent or guardian of a child who has tested positive, you may be eligible for a £500 lump sum Test and Trace Support Payment.
To check your eligibility for these and other benefits, use this Benefits Calculator.
Sending children to school or childcare
My child is clinically vulnerable, do I have to send them to school?
In England, clinically extremely vulnerable pupils and students should attend their school or other educational setting and follow appropriate health and safety advice. Read the School Guidance here. Children who live in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable are not advised to shield and should attend school or college.
In Wales, the government guidance states that children who are clinically extremely vulnerable and have been following shielding measures can return to school when appropriate for their year group.
In Northern Ireland, you can read the latest guidance here. Government guidance states that children who are clinically extremely vulnerable and were previously advised to shield can continue to go to school, but should get advice from their GP who may advise some children not to attend school. Further guidance is available in the Department of Education’s guidance for education settings.
The latest scientific guidance to the government is that most children infected with coronavirus experience less severe symptoms than adults. This is said to be the same with the new strain of COVID-19. GPs have been reviewing all children who were initially identified as clinically extremely vulnerable to confirm whether they are still thought to be at the highest risk. You should speak to your GP if you’re unsure whether your child is considered clinically extremely vulnerable.
If your child is clinically extremely vulnerable and has been advised not to attend school, in these circumstances you should ask to work from home or to be furloughed. See our furlough pages for more information.
More information for parents about educational settings is available here.
I am worried about coronavirus. Do I have to send my children to school?
The latest scientific guidance to the government is that most children infected with coronavirus experience less severe symptoms than adults. This is said to be the same with the new strain of COVID-19.
If you are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable, the government advises that your children should still attend school.
In these circumstances, if you don’t want to send your children to school and wish them to be home-schooled instead, you could ask to work from home. However, unless your child has been advised not to attend school, your employer may insist that you make childcare arrangements.
More information for parents about educational settings is available here.
Alternative arrangements / support
Can I leave my children with a friend or family member?
Since the lifting of most Covid restrictions, all UK nations generally allow informal and childcare where your child is not under a duty to self-isolate.
However, if your child is required to self-isolate they must stay at home and should not come into contact with anyone outside their household.
The NHS guidance states that children should not be sent to a childminder while self-isolating, and that family and friends should only be allowed to enter the home to provide ‘essential care’. In our view, it would likely be unreasonable for an employer to expect you to put a family member to put themselves at risk of COVID-19 so that you can attend work. You may also be at risk of breaching the legal duty to ensure that your child self-isolates if you allow visitors to your home while the child is in their self-isolation period.
If you are a dual-parent household and can split the time off between you, it may be reasonable for your employer to ask you to consider doing this. However, it will depend very much on you and your partners’ circumstances.
Can I get help with childcare costs?
The schemes for childcare vary depending on which part of the UK you live in. We understand local councils are keen to help critical workers and may be providing additional support for critical workers.
So as a first step, we recommend you get in touch with your local council childcare team. We also suggest you ask your workplace if they are arranging any support for childcare costs.
If you live in Wales: the government has announced that funding will be diverted so that key workers can access free childcare for their pre-school age children under the Coronavirus Childcare Assistance Scheme.
If you live in Scotland: the government has not made any specific provision for pre-school age children. However they have set out guidance on who is a key worker (which is different to the guidance issued by central government) and made clear that decisions on key workers and childcare are taken locally in line with national criteria. Importantly only key workers who cannot fulfil their functions when they are working remotely from home can qualify for critical childcare.
If you live in any other part of the UK: unfortunately the schemes in the rest of the UK have not been amended in light of the pandemic. The government have announced that local authorities are able to redistribute funding across settings accordingly to enable local authorities to ensure that critical workers, including NHS staff, are able to access childcare where they need it. The government has issued guidance as to how childcare settings will operate. We await further guidance on support with childcare costs. In the interim, the normal rules around childcare therefore continue to apply. Please click here for details.
Will the government continue to pay for free childcare if nurseries close?
Yes, the government has confirmed that they will continue to pay for free early years entitlement places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds, even if the childcare provider is closed or the children aren’t able to attend. Local authorities have been told to continue to fund early entitlements for all childminders, schools and nurseries.
Can my employer ask me to bring my children into work?
In certain circumstances, your employer may be able to ask you to bring your children into work, but they should not force you to do so. You must consider if it is safe for your children to be at your workplace and how it would impact your ability to do your job.
Before agreeing, you should ask your employer how they think the arrangement would work – for example, would they provide a safe space for the children to sit and play? Would you be able to take breaks with them? Would your role or hours would be adjusted because of the disruption? And how will they enforce health and safety requirements with very small children?
Your employer knows you and your work space but they won’t know your child so it important to think about these issues before agreeing. You may want to consider a trial day of the arrangement to see if it could work.
If your employer asks you to bring your children to work, they must ensure they comply with health and safety rules for you and your child.
Health and Safety
All employers are required by the law to assess and minimise health and safety risks in the workplace (whether those affect their employees or others). As your employer is asking you to bring your child into work, they must take precautions to protect both your health as an employee and that of your children.
As well as the usual obligation to provide a safe workplace, employers must take additional precautions where young people (i.e. aged 18 or under) are involved. The law specifically states that must protect young people from risks arising due to:
- their lack of experience;
- being unaware of existing or potential risks; or
- their lack of maturity.
You should consider carefully whether it is safe your child to come to work with you, considering the government’s strict social distancing guidance. You should also consider whether either you or your child(ren) are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus due to pre-existing medical conditions. It may be a good idea to approach your employer to ask them what additional measures they will take to protect you and your child(ren) during this time.
If, following discussions with your employer, you reasonably believe that your workplace would not be a safe environment for you or your child(ren), you may be able to refuse to go to work. For information on what to do if your employer has not taken effective health and safety measures to protect you and your child, please see the answer to our FAQ above ‘Can my employer dismiss me if I refuse to come to work because I’m worried about coronavirus?’.
Indirect Sex Discrimination – Women
If you don’t want to take your children to work because it would significantly affect your performance or productivity, you may be able to refuse to come into work and/or bring a claim against your employer for indirect sex discrimination.
You could argue that your employer’s policy of requiring employees with children to bring their children to work disproportionately impacts women who generally have more childcare responsibilities. However, remember that an employer can theoretically justify indirect discrimination if they have a legitimate business need for their actions.
You can find more information on discrimination and flexible working here.
Alternatives – taking time off work and flexible working
You might consider taking leave or adopting a flexible working arrangement (e.g. working from home) to avoid bringing your child into work until alternative childcare becomes available. There’s more information about the leave you might be able to take in our FAQ response ‘Am I allowed time off work if I have to care for my children (because I have no childcare available) or someone else who depends on me?’
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.