Working Families’ Statement on COVID-19 School Closures
Published: 18 Mar 2020
In response to the Government’s closure of UK schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said:
“Many working parents and carers with young children are already working from home, as recommended by the Government. Now that schools are closed, they find themselves needing to juggle work with looking after their children – including supporting their learning – at home.
Employers should continue to pay parents and carers as usual while they are working from home. Now’s the time for line managers to have sensible and understanding conversations with parents and carers of young children – particularly those working full-time – about what is needed, and what is and isn’t possible, over the coming weeks.
It’s important that the Government provides support to employers that can’t afford to continue to pay staff who are unable to work from home. This includes small employers that cannot afford to absorb any fall in productivity due to the parents and carers they employ having to work from home whilst looking after their children. Particular attention should be paid to supporting parents and carers in insecure work, including the self-employed, as they are most at risk of not being paid.
For parents and carers who aren’t being paid by their employer or are self-employed and can’t work because schools have closed, it’s crucial that the social security system adapts so they continue to receive, at a minimum, pay for their hours worked at national minimum wage replacement levels. For the self-employed and those working irregular hours, this should be based on how much they work on average.
Now’s also the time for the Government to remind employers of parents’ and carers’ right to emergency time off for dependants while schools are closed, which means they cannot be dismissed or treated unfavourably as a result. This is an important right for those in insecure work who are at a higher risk of not having a job to return to.
The coronavirus outbreak underlines the ongoing importance to the UK economy of good quality, part-time and flexible jobs being available to parents – and the drawbacks of the outdated, ‘nine-to-five’ model. Accommodating school closures is likely to be easier for parents working fewer hours in a job that can be done from home, with the flexibility to spread their work across the week.
Since the virus emerged, we’ve seen an increasing number of employers adopt flexible working to mitigate the risks of spreading the illness. We hope that this will help employers recognise the far-reaching benefits of flexible working – including increased productivity and engagement from staff – and that they will continue to embed flexible working into their business long after the coronavirus has run its course.”
The Working Families online shop carries a range of resources for supporting flexible teams and guidance on home-working.
Working Families members have full access to all the materials in our online shop.
For more advice about employment rights and COVID-19 see Coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are my rights?