COVID-19: What about childcare arrangement? Do I have to allow my employees to stay at home and look after their children if they fall ill?

Currently there is no specific provision in place to address the need to take time off to look after a child if the childcare is disrupted or suddenly becomes necessary, for example, when a school is closed due to a coronavirus contact.

The Prime Minister announced today, 16 March 2020, that anyone in contact with someone experiencing the symptoms of the coronavirus infection, including children, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. This has not yet been published as the official advice but when it is published it is expected that the parents and family members in contact with a child showing the coronavirus infection symptoms will be deemed as incapacitated for 14 days and so entitled to the SSP.

The general statutory entitlement to take time off unpaid to look after children and other dependants remains in place. Your employee is entitled to take reasonable time off to provide assistance if a dependant falls ill, to make care arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill, to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant, and specifically to deal with an unexpected incident which involves the employee's child during school (or another educational establishment's) hours. The assistance to the dependant cannot go beyond the reasonable amount necessary to enable the employee to deal with the immediate crisis. However, the coronavirus epidemic is an unprecedented event, and arguably unexpected, and the employers should exercise discretion as to the length of the time off allowed. The statutory provision certainly does not cover looking after a child until the worst of the epidemic is over, but in a crisis situation when the school is suddenly in quarantine, allowing an employee a week off or so to look after the child and to make arrangements for the childcare would appear reasonable.

Use of annual leave, parental leave if your employee is entitled, working from home and flexible working should all be considered to accommodate the childcare requirements.

 

Authors: Kiril Moskovchuk

Published: 16 Mar 2020

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