The majority of schools have closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.  This means that many families now have childcare commitments that they would not normally have and are unable to make alternative arrangements because of the ‘lockdown’.  Under current legislation employees are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off to provide care and to look after children in emergency situations.  This is usually for a short period while alternative arrangements are made. 

In these circumstances alternative arrangements cannot be made so it could be argued that taking time off for caring responsibilities or looking after children could last until children are able to return to school or childcare providers.  The guidance appears to allow employers to furlough staff who have childcare or other caring responsibilities if you are unable to work from home during this time or your employer would otherwise lay you off or make you redundant. You cannot insist on being furloughed this is a decision for the employer but you should talk to your employer. If you are a ‘key worker’ you should be able to send your children to school.  You will need confirmation from your employer.

Caring for Dependants- If you can work from home

You should speak to your employer and explain that you have childcare or dependent /caring responsibilities.  You should explain how you would be able to do your work at home.  The government has advised that insofar as it is possible, you should work from home.

It may not be possible to do your full hours while you are caring for your children.  You should speak to your employer and you may be able to agree a temporary reduction in hours while you work at home.  This would be a change to your terms and conditions, so it is important to ensure that you agree any changes in writing and confirm that it is a temporary arrangement due to the current situation. 

Caring for Dependants - If you cannot work from home

All employees have the right to take time off for dependants. However, this is normally unpaid unless you have a contractual right to paid time off.  Dependent means children and other people who depend on you such as a partner or someone who is vulnerable.  Normally you are only able to take time off for a short period while you arrange alternative care for your dependent, usually a couple of days.  However, in the current circumstances it is likely that this could be for much longer because of the school closures and the social distancing rules that have been imposed. 

You could also ask to take unpaid parental leave which is normally for much longer.  You are required to give notice but again in these circumstances your employer may let you take parental leave even without notice. 

If you do not have children but you care for someone else, you should speak to your employer and ask if your employer if you can take leave to be able to care for your dependent.  This is likely to be unpaid unless you have a contractual provision which allows for paid time off in these circumstances.

Your employer may also allow you to take some annual leave.