Last updated 10 August 2020.
*PLEASE FOLLOW ANY GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE OR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA AS GUIDANCE ON THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) IS CHANGING DAILY*
You might also want to look at our other coronavirus pages:
- Redundancy during coronavirus
- What financial support is there for working families?
- Rights for new and expecting parents
- Rights for carers (or those that are living with someone who should be ‘shielding’)
- Return to work and health and safety
Taking time off work
My workplace is open. Do I have to go in to work if I’m worried about catching coronavirus?
From 1 August, government guidance is changing – giving employers more discretion to decide how they want their employees to work.The government’s guidance is still that you should work from home if possible. However, if an employer wants you to go back into work, they can ask you to return as long as it is Covid-secure.
If you absolutely cannot work from home, then you could be expected to go into work, but your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety (see more below).
If you are afraid of catching coronavirus, your employer may agree to continue allowing you to work from home. However, this would be at the employer’s discretion. Alternatively, it may allow you take some leave so that you do not have to come into work. Your employer may be willing to agree for you to take annual leave, unpaid leave, unpaid parental leave, a sabbatical or other period of leave. You would need to check how long the leave could last and if the leave would be paid or unpaid. If you need further advice on what benefits you could claim during this time, we have a specific website page on financial support for families whose income is affected by coronavirus.
Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety. Your employer should make sure that you are able to follow Public Health England guidelines (or the equivalent in your region) including, where possible, maintaining a , and washing your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel, if soap and water is not available). Where it is not possible to maintain a 2 metre distance, in Scotland and England, the 1 metre + rule applies. This means that you can be 1 metre away from another person providing you avoid facing each other, are wearing masks and do not spend too long in one place.
If your workplace is unsafe, you could argue that it would be a breach of your employment contract (more specifically, a breach of the mutual duty of trust and confidence) to force you come to work, although if you don’t go into work you are not likely to be paid. If you refuse to go to work because your workplace poses a “serious and imminent” danger to your health and safety, you have a right not to be dismissed or disciplined as a result. This applies not just if there is a risk to your own health and safety, but also members of the public and those you live with. Read our page on health and safety during coronavirus and returning to work for more information.
Government advice is that the extremely clinically extremely vulnerable shielding requirement will be ‘paused’ from 1 August in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from 16 August in Wales. The Government is stating that people are no longer required to shield and therefore “do not need to follow previous shielding advice”. As the Government starts to monitor the virus and place restrictions at a local level, this advice has the potential to change depending on where you live – so you should keep a close check on the guidance in your local area.
Those workers initially advised by the NHS to shield can be asked to return to work by their employer providing that the workplace has been made Covid-secure. Employees should talk to their employers about plans in place to help keep them safe. You may want to ask to see your employers risk assessment and work plans for Covid safety. If clinically extremely vulnerable workers can continue to work from home, your employer should support this.
If you have been put on furlough, the pause on the shielding requirement does not automatically mean that your employer will end your furlough, however, from 1 August, employers will have to start contributing towards the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – this might put financial pressure on them to start bringing employees back from furlough. If you are concerned about your health and safety it might be worth asking your employer to continue to furlough you, or (if possible) to set you up with home working arrangements. Do remember that your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments if you have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act. This could include a working from home arrangement or increased health and safety measures.
It is important for your employer to make sure your place of employment has proper safeguards to protect your health. If you are being forced back to work in an environment without proper safeguards, you should review our health and safety page and consider contacting HSE or Protect. You can also check if you have access to legal services via Trade Union membership or legal expenses insurance (home contents insurance) to get some further advice.
Those initially advised to shield will lose their entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay when shielding is paused. Those who cannot return to work due to being sick will need to follow their employer’s sickness absence procedure.
If you are pregnant, or you or someone in your household is vulnerable because of an underlying health condition, you could argue that it would be a breach of your employment contract (more specifically a breach of the mutual duty of trust and confidence) to force you to come to work. If your illness means that you’re considered to be disabled, your employer would be required to consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your work under the Equality Act 2010. Have a look at our page on health and safety during coronavirus for more information. If you are a carer or live with someone who is shielding, have a look at our carer page.
If you work for the NHS and are (without the necessary protective equipment) in contact with high numbers of patients with confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus, you could also potentially argue that your work puts you in a serious and imminent danger of catching the virus yourself and refuse to come to work for that reason. In our view you could be protected from dismissal (a dismissal for refusing to come to work in those circumstances would be automatically unfair, section 100 of the Employment Rights Act).
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?
If you can work from home
If you have no childcare available, and if it is at all possible for you to work from home, you should. The impact that working from home has on your employer’s business should not be taken into account when making the decision of whether or not you can work from home, as it would be for a normal flexible working request – the government has advised that insofar as it is possible, you should work from home.
If you cannot work from home
You may be able to be furloughed, if you are eligible. Note that in almost all cases, the latest you could be furloughed for the first time was 10 June.
The government guidance on furlough makes it clear that if you cannot continue working because of caring or childcare responsibilities as a result of coronavirus, your employer can furlough you. See our page on furlough for more information.
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. If your employer does not agree to informal conversations, you can put in a formal flexible working request. However, your employer could refuse if it would have a detrimental impact on their business.
We’ve created a template letter to request flexible working during coronavirus that you can use.
Time off for dependants:
You also have the right to take time off for dependants, but this is unpaid, unless that’s a perk in your contract/employer’s policy or practice. Time off for dependants concerns not just children, but other dependants too, like a partner or parent. You can take time off which is necessary because of an unexpected disruption in care arrangements. Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days, because it is aimed to allow you time to organise the care of your dependant. But for now, our view is that depending on your circumstances, this could last for much longer. For many children, schools are still closed. Older relatives who would usually provide childcare may have been told to self-isolate or shield. In today’s circumstances, some people have no other care options they can organise.
As social distancing rules are relaxed, your employer may argue that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because you can now arrange alternative childcare. If this happens, you may need to switch to parental leave – see below.
Your employer might also say that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because the disruption in care is no longer “unexpected”. It is true that if you knew about a situation beforehand, it will be more difficult to show that is was absolutely necessary for you to be off. Your employer can expect you to show that you tried to make alternative arrangements. 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 for a while. Knowing that something will happen in advance does not necessarily mean you cannot have the time off, so long as the time is reasonable and necessary. In the case of Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Harrison , the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that a mother who had two weeks’ notice that her childminder would not be available, and who had tried but was unable to make alternative arrangements for her children, had taken time off for dependants when she was absent from work.
Time off for dependants does not have to be taken in blocks of 1 day. It can be taken for only a few hours. There’s also no limit to how often you can take time off for dependants, the time taken off just has to be reasonable and necessary. For example, if you only need time off work for part of the day, it would be possible for you to continue working for part of the day (or week) but explain that you take time off for dependants for x number of hours (or days) – these will then be unpaid. Unlike flexible working or parental leave, your employer cannot refuse you this time off, as long as it is necessary. You should not be punished for taking this time off (in legal terms, this means you have the right not to be treated unfavourably), so your employer should let you continue working the hours that you are able to work.
Unpaid parental leave:
You can take unpaid parental leave:
- You can take parental leave if you are an employee and you have worked for your employer for at least 1 year
- Your child has to be under 18 years old
- You can take 4 weeks per child per year
- Parental leave can be taken in blocks of 1 week at a time (if your child is on DLA or PIP, you can take it in blocks of 1 day)
- It is normally unpaid, but your employer’s policy might be more generous
The requirements for parental leave set out above are the legal minimum. You should always check your contract and employer’s policies – they may be more generous than the law.
Bear in mind your employer might be able to postpone parental leave if the business would be particularly disrupted (whereas they cannot postpone time off for dependants). However, it may be difficult for an employer to argue that it is reasonable to postpone parental leave in the current circumstances.
Strictly speaking, you need to give 21 days’ notice to take unpaid parental leave, but given the circumstances, your employer may let you take the leave even if you cannot give the required notice. If your employer insists that you give them 21 days’ notice, you may be able to take time off for dependants to look after your children for this 21 day period.
If you cannot take unpaid parental leave, for example because you haven’t worked for your employer for more than 1 year, or you have already taken the maximum amount of parental leave available to you, you could rely on time off for dependants instead (see above).
If you can take special leave (that your employer has agreed specifically because of the coronavirus or as part as a more general kind of compassionate leave policy that some employers have), then this could be a good option.
Sick leave (self-isolation):
If you are self-isolating because you (or someone in your household) has symptoms of coronavirus, then you may be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay instead.
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.
The Prime Minister has been asked about parents who are asked to go to work, but have no childcare. On 13 May at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “In so far as people may not be able to go back to work because they do not have the childcare that they need, their employers must be understanding. As I said, it is clearly an impediment and a barrier to people’s ability to go back to work if they do not have childcare.” He has promised to look into this. You should point this out to your employer if they are trying to make you come into work and refuse all the options above. You could argue that in forcing you to come to work and refusing any of the solutions that you’ve suggested, they are breaching the duty of trust and confidence they owe you. In practice, this a negotiation.
If you are suddenly left 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.
What is the risk that my employer treats me as absent without authorisation?
It is important to inform your employer as soon as possible in writing of the reason why you’re not coming to work. For instance, it maybe because someone in your home or you start developing symptoms which means you have to self-isolate, or you have to care for a dependant (see above).
Failure to inform your employer may mean they treat your absence as unauthorised, but if you do inform them and the reason for your absence is justified, your absence will not be unauthorised – indeed the government says you must stay at home if you develop certain symptoms, however mild. If you take time off for dependants, you need to keep your employer informed, in writing, and explain why it is absolutely necessary for you to be off work.
We would recommend that you keep a record of any communication you’ve had with your employer in writing.
Can I get sick pay if I’m off work?
You can claim Statutory Sick Pay if you are off work because of a reason relating to coronavirus, if one of the following applies:
- If you are shielding in accordance with public health guidance because you are extremely vulnerableand are considered to be very high risk to severe illness as a result of coronavirus, but only for the period you have been advised to shield. Shielding in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is to be ‘paused’ on 1 August, and in Wales from 16 August, although there may be variations locally in all four nations. If shielding is paused where you live, you will not be able to claim SSP after these dates unless you are actually sick or self-isolating in accordance with the Regulations.
- If you or someone else in your household has or has had specific symptomsof coronavirus
- If you have been told to self-isolate by the NHS due to contactwith someone with confirmed coronavirus, but only for a maximum of 14 days
- If you are signed off by a medical professional such as your GP (for any reason, including the effects of coronavirus)
- If you are shielding in accordance with public health guidance
Between 16 April and 31 July, those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable and advised to shield by Public Health England were entitled to Stautory Sick Pay (SSP). However, from 1 August, in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and 16th August in Wales shielding will be ‘paused’ in line with government guidelines. Whilst shielding is paused, those who had initially been told to shield will no longer be able to get SSP solely because they are shielding. However, If you are still unable to work because you are ill or if you are self-isolating, you may still be eligible for SSP.
In local areas that reimpose some form of lockdown, it is likely that those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable will be readvised to shield. This should mean that you would be entitled to SSP if you live in that area and need to shield. However, this could differ depending on where you live – so it would be good idea to check this with your local authority.
It is important to keep up-to-date with the separate advice for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and anything specific to your own area. Details of local restrictions for England can be found here.
If you were put on furlough by your employer, the pause on shielding doesn’t automatically mean your employer will end your furlough. However, since your employer will also have to start making contributions to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the ‘furlough scheme’), this may put financial pressure on your employer to bring you back to work. Please note that, in almost all cases, employers have not been allowed to put any new people onto the furlough scheme since 10 June.
- If you or someone in your household is displaying symptoms and you are self-isolating
If you are self-isolating because you or someone in your household is displaying specific symptoms of coronavirus, you should be treated as on sick leave and so may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. The symptoms are the recent onset of a continuous cough, a high temperature, a loss or change to your sense of small or taste, or any other symptoms which have been specified in guidance by the Chief Medical Officer or Deputy Chief Medical Officers for your part of the UK.
To make it easier for people to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home, the government have developed an alternative form of evidence to the fit note, called an ‘isolation note’, that you can access online via the NHS website.
Your employer may have updated their sickness absence policies in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Check with your employer as regards your entitlement to sick pay and also the impact on your sickness record if you need to self-isolate.
If your employer doesn’t offer contractual sick pay, most employees will still be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP). To qualify for SSP, you need to be an employee and normally earn the lower earnings limit (£120 per week). SSP is paid at £95.85. Your employer can pay you SSP in place of your salary whilst you are self-isolating. The government has confirmed that employees will be eligible for SSP from day 1 of sick leave when self-isolating to prevent the spread of coronavirus, rather than day four (the usual rule).
Though you can get sick pay if you are self-isolating, you could also be put on or stay on furlough. Furlough is likely to be more financially beneficial than SSP. Note that in almost all cases, the latest you could be furloughed for the first time was 10 June.
You cannot get SSP if you are not self-isolating or shielding, unless you are actually sick.
Bear in mind that self-isolation (when you our someone in your household has symptoms and you should not go out even to go shopping, or you have been instructed by the NHS to stay at home because of contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus) and shielding (when you have to stay at home and avoid all unnecessary contact because you are particularly vulnerable) are different from social distancing (when no-one in your household has any symptoms but you’re choosing to stay at home to avoid contamination).
Unfortunately, you’re only eligible for SSP if you are signed off sick (via a ‘fit note’); you are shielding as per local guidance in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland); you have been formally told to self-isolate because of contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus; or if you are self-isolating because you or someone else in your household has developed specified coronavirus symptoms. You cannot claim SSP if you decide to stay off work for any other social distancing reasons.
If you are furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and become sick, your employer can decide to leave you on the furlough scheme, receiving your furloughed pay (80% or more of wages) instead of receiving SSP only. Alternatively, your employer may move you from furlough to SSP, if you are eligible. This may partly depend on whether they can claim the SSP back (SSP paid due to coronavirus can be reclaimed by the employer). You cannot get SSP and remain on furlough.
Can my employer count my absence towards my sickness record?
If you are sick, this should be accepted as sickness absence by your employer. If you are showing signs of coronavirus, you should not go to see your GP to get a sick note. Instead, the NHS has produced an online version of the sick note called an ‘isolation note’, which your employer should accept. See our financial support page for information on sick pay and benefits you may be able to claim while you’re off sick.
Your employer should record your sickness absence in the usual way in line with their sickness policy. Many employers will update their policies to make it clear that absence related to coronavirus will not be taken into account in attendance or management procedures that could impact on your employment. Even if your workplace policies haven’t been updated, we would not expect your employer to be taking the coronavirus-related absence into account in making any decisions in relation to disciplinaries or dismissals.
If you remain concerned about taking sick leave, you could consider whether there are any alternative options available to you.
Your employer may also be willing to agree for you to take annual leave, unpaid leave, unpaid parental leave, a sabbatical or other period of leave. You would need to check how long the leave could last and if the leave would be paid or unpaid. If you need further advice on what benefits you could claim during this time, we have a specific website page on financial support for families whose income is affected by coronavirus.
You may be able claim unfair dismissal if your employer decided to dismiss you because of sickness absence taken in relation to coronavirus. We would strongly emphasise that although this sick leave is likely to be noted on your sickness record, it is vital you do not continue going to work while displaying symptoms.
Can I take or change my annual leave?
Your employer may ask you to use your annual leave to cover the period of self-isolation (if on annual leave, you will be paid as normal). You can also ask your employer to change your annual leave dates, but there’s no legal obligation for your employer to agree. If you want to take leave at a specific time, your employer can refuse the dates you want to take, for example if it would leave them short-staffed. But if you do not want to take your annual leave during the lockdown, you could say that in the current circumstances, this would not be a holiday which is supposed to be for rest and recuperation. If you can prove that the current time off work because of your personal circumstances (e.g. having to homeschool your children) is not a non-working relaxation time, you could argue that your employer should not be forcing you to take your holiday.
You should follow any specific rules set out in your contract or another workplace agreement about how to request holiday. In the absence of anything to the contrary in your contract, then the default rules are as follows:
- you would need to give at least twice as much notice as the period of holiday you want to take (so, to take 2 days’ holiday you would need to give 4 days’ notice); and
- your employer could refuse your request by giving the same amount of notice as the holiday it wishes to refuse (so, to refuse 2 days’ holiday the employer would need to give at least 2 days’ notice).
Can I carry over my annual leave into next year if I can’t take it?
Yes, the government has announced that you are able to carry over up to four weeks of annual leave into the next two leave years.
This will allow leave to be taken sometime in the following two years but only where the holiday leave was not taken in this current holiday year as a result of the effects of coronavirus.
What if my employer asks me to stay home? Is it a suspension? Will I be paid?
If you can work from home, you should be paid your salary as normal. Even if home working isn’t usually allowed, check with your employer if you are allowed to work from home. The government has said that anyone who can work from home, should do so.
If you cannot work from home, then your employer might have put you on furlough or asked you to take a period of leave. Note that in most cases, the latest date you could be furloughed for the first time was 10 June.
Usually, if you can show that you are “willing, ready, and able” to work then you should be paid your full salary, even if your employer asks you to stay off work. Some employment contracts might have a “lay off clause” which allow your employer to lay you off work without pay. These are very rare. Even if you are entitled to your full pay, you may be inclined to accept a pay cut while you are off work – especially if your employer has cash-flow issues and the alternative is redundancy.
Can I leave my children with a family member or friend if I don’t have childcare available?
It depends which part of the UK you are living in:
England: According to social distancing guidance in England, two households can meet indoors. This means that informal childcare can be provided.
Certain people in England are able to form support bubbles with one other household. You are only able to form a support bubble if:
- you (or the household you are forming the support bubble with) are a single adult living alone, or
- you (or the household you are forming the support bubble with) are a single parent living with children.
At least one of the two households needs to meet one of the conditions above. So for example, if you are a single parent with children, you can use one other household (friends or family) to help you with childcare. Or if one of the grandparents lives alone, you can form a support bubble with them even if you are in a couple. People who form ‘support bubbles’ are able to act as though they are living in the same household when they visit each other, which means they do not need to observe social distancing. The law on social distancing was updated on 12 June to reflect the Prime Minister’s announcement.
Scotland: The current social distancing guidance in Scotland is that a maximum of 8 people from up to 3 different households can meet indoors.
Extended households have been introduced in Scotland. This means that if you are an adult and you live alone, or if all the other people in your household are under 18, you and the members of another household can agree to form an ‘extended household’.
Wales: The social distancing guidance in Wales remains that people should not meet indoors.
From 6 July, two households in Wales can form an extended household, and spend time indoors together.
Northern Ireland: Groups of up to 6 people can now meet indoors, so informal childcare can be provided.
People who live alone as also permitted to visit one other household indoors to form a small support unit.
My child’s school/nursery is shut. What can I do about childcare?
If you are a key worker, government guidance makes it clear that local authorities are responsible for providing childcare for critical workers during the day, but that does not deal with childcare outside school hours or where your children are too young to access the childcare. If your child’s school or nursery has shut, then the local authority should ensure that your children can still attend school elsewhere. If your school hasn’t already informed you of those arrangements, please contact your local authority and they should make alternative arrangements.
You may also be able to use a childminder or family member/friend for help. The restrictions on this depend on where you are based in the UK.
In England, you are now allowed to use a paid childminder to look after your children if you are unable to do so. You may also be able to form a ‘support bubble’ so that one other household (family or friends) can help with childcare.
In Scotland, you are allowed to use a childminder, but they must limit the number of households they provide childcare for to a maximum of four. Key workers and vulnerable children have priority. You may also be able to form an extended household so that one other household can help with childcare.
In Wales, you can now use paid childcare.
In Northern Ireland, the advice remains that where it is possible to do so, children should be cared for in their own homes, unless you are a key worker. From 1 July, restrictions will be lifted so that not only key workers have access to childcare. Family Support NI has more information. People who live alone can also visit one other household indoors to form a small support unit.
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 yourself 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?’
I’m a key worker. Can I get any help with additional childcare costs?
The schemes for childcare vary depending on which part of the UK you live in. Since the pandemic, and the closure of schools, critical workers can send their children to school at no cost. For children who are too young to attend school, the usual childcare schemes still apply. 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 entitlements for children aged 2, 3 and 4, even though my child’s nursery is closed?
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.
The schools are reopening, but I don’t want to send my child back to school because I am worried about coronavirus. Do I have to send them back to school?
The latest scientific guidance to the government is that most children infected with coronavirus experience less severe symptoms than adults. Schools are taking a number of precautions to prevent the spreading of coronavirus, such as reducing class sizes. As a result, the government strongly encourages children in the eligible year groups and priority groups (such as children of key workers) to attend schools as they re-open. However, if you are uncomfortable with your children going to school because of the risk of coronavirus, you should be able to keep them out of school.
From 23 March, vulnerable children and the children of key workers have been able to attend schools and nurseries. But they have not been required to attend school, and are only encouraged to do so if there is no possible way for them to be cared for at home.
Although the guidance will change once schools begin to reopen for certain year groups, the government has confirmed that parents who choose to keep their child out of school will not be fined. Parents who decide not to send their children to school should notify the child’s school or college as normal if the child is unable to attend, so that staff are aware and can discuss this.
If your child is clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, they should continue to shield. The government has confirmed that children with underlying health conditions will not be expected to attend school.
If your child is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable), the government says that parents should follow medical advice.
If your child lives with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, they should only attend school if stringent social distancing can be adhered to, and if the child or young person is able to understand and follow those instructions.
If your child lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable), including those who are pregnant, the government’s advice is that they can attend school.
More information for parents about the reopening of educational settings is available here.
Working from home
I’m working from home but I’m often interrupted by my children, and my employer insists that I either devote the whole day to work or take the day off unpaid. What can I do?
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.
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. We would suggest asking for the new work pattern to remain in place for as long as the government request people work from home due to coronavirus. 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 (see below).
See the section below for more advice if your employer refuses to let you work from home.
Other options for taking leave: You may be able to use time off for dependants or unpaid parental leave. See our question on taking time off work if you have to look after someone who depends on you.
Financial support: 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.
My employer has refused to let me work from home because I have to look after my children. Can they do that?
Your employer has the right to expect that when you’re working, you’re actually working, not babysitting. But if you can reassure them that you will be working, maybe explaining that you will spread your working hours so that you work some hours when your children are asleep, there is no reason why they should treat you differently to other employees who are not parents.
You could potentially argue that your employer has breached your contract: they are bound by the duty of mutual trust and confidence, which in these exceptional times would require employers to allow employees to work from home as much as possible.
You could also tell them that if they think your performance is not up to scratch, they could treat it as a performance/productivity issue, but at least give it a try.
If you are a woman, you can argue that this kind of policy is indirect sex discrimination. A blanket ban of home working for parents with young children impacts more women than men because women tend to have more childcare responsibilities than men. If your employer has allowed some of your male colleagues (especially if they are also parents) to work from home, this could also be direct sex discrimination.
I feel as though I am being targeted because I have children. Do I have any rights?
You could potentially argue that your employer has breached your contract: they are bound by the duty of mutual trust and confidence, which in these exceptional times would require employers to allow employees to work from home as much as possible.
If you are a woman with children, then being treated negatively or being forced to take unpaid leave as a result of childcare responsibilities could potentially amount to indirect sex discrimination, as childcare responsibilities impact women more than men.
This is especially important if you feel like your employer might be using a refusal of flexible working as an excuse to make you take unpaid leave when it could otherwise agree to more flexible arrangements. You may wish to consider raising this to encourage your employer to agree your request, but try to do so in a neutral manner.
My employer wants me to take a coronavirus test before returning to work. Can they make me do this?
No, there is nothing in the law that allows your employer to force you to take a coronavirus test. If you strongly object to taking this test, it may be a breach of your employment contract (specifically, the mutual duty of trust and confidence) for your employer to make you take the test. If you do not agree to your employer’s request, you should tell them this.
If you take a coronavirus test, and share the results with your employer, remember that they have to handle this data lawfully, fairly and transparently. They may be able to tell other employees that someone has contracted coronavirus, but they should avoid naming this individual, and shouldn’t provide more information than necessary. The Information Commissioner (the regulator responsible for data protection) has published advice for employers on coronavirus and testing. This gives you an idea of what your employer should be doing.
I’ve been contacted by NHS test and trace in England, and told to self-isolate for 14 days. What pay do I receive while I am off work?
If you are unable to work because you are self-isolating, you are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). In England, Wales and Scotland, SSP has been extended to cover those who receive an official notification to self-isolate, even if they do not have coronavirus symptoms. If you are an employee, and you normally earn the lower earnings limit (£120 per week), you should be able to claim SSP. SSP is paid at £95.85 a week from April 2020. Your employer may have a company sick pay scheme in place that pays you more than SSP. Have a look at what your contract says, or check with your HR department.
Can I be put on furlough if I cannot continue working for childcare/caring reasons?
Yes, you can be put on furlough for childcare/caring reasons, but note that in almost all cases, the latest you could be furloughed for the first time was 10 June. See our dedicated page on furlough for more information.
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.
Will I be able to claim any benefits while I’m off work because of coronavirus?
We have a separate website article on financial support that is available if your income has gone down because of coronavirus.
Where can I go for more help?
To find out what government schemes will help if work has been affected by Covid-19, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have created a decision tree to help you navigate what you may be entitled to, including whether you are eligible to be furloughed.
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.