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Caring for dependants

Following the closure of schools to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children, caring for dependants has become a huge challenge to working parents around the country.

We set out below some key points to consider in this area.

Critical workers

Critical workers’ children have been permitted to attend school throughout the pandemic and this will continue.

The latest guidance states children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school or college if required, although parents and carers should keep their children at home if they can.

Critical workers are those in the following categories:

  • Health and social care– this includes (but is not limited to): doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers and other frontline health and social care staff; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector; and those working as part of the health and social care supply chain (e.g. producers and distributors of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment).
  • Education and childcare– this includes: childcare; support and teaching staff; social workers and specialist education professionals who must remain active during the coronavirus response to deliver this approach.
  • Key public services – this includes: those essential to the running of the justice system; religious staff; charities and workers delivering key frontline services; those responsible for the management of the deceased; and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.
  • Local and national government – this only includes those who are: delivering essential public services; who are essential to the delivery of the coronavirus response; or who are essential to the delivery of and response to EU transition (e.g. the certification or checking of goods for import and export).
  • Food and other necessary goods- anybody involved in the production, distribution, sale and delivery of food or other key goods.
  • Public safety and national security – this includes: police and support staff; Ministry of Defence civilians; contractor and armed forces personnel; fire and rescue service employees (including support staff); National Crime Agency staff; those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.
  • Transport and border – those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the coronavirus response and EU transition and those constructing or supporting the operation of critical transport and border infrastructure.
  • Utilities services- the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage) and waste disposal sectors
  • Communication services- those who work in postal services and delivery and those in the IT and data infrastructure sector
  • Financial services – staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure), and payments providers
  • Key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals and telecommunications sectors (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, 999 and 111 critical services)

Vulnerable children and young people

Children and young people who are deemed to be vulnerable are also permitted to attend school during lockdown. This would include:

  • children and young people on the edge of receiving support from children’s social care services or in the process of being referred to children’s services;
  • adopted children;
  • those living in temporary accommodation;
  • those who are young carers; and
  • those who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example, due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study).

More detailed guidance is available at:

Return to school (or not) for other children

It is unclear when other children will be permitted to return to school, as the goalposts have already moved from after February half-term to 8 March and the government has since expressed a “hope” that schools will reopen before Easter…

The ongoing time (and stress!) associated with home-schooling children will, inevitably, impact on the well-being and productivity of working parents.

Businesses, therefore, need to strike a balance between providing flexibility and support for those parents and continuing to operate as effectively as possible.

There are a number of options you can offer staff with children at home. The key is to communicate clearly with staff and ensure that everything is agreed with line managers/the business, so that expectations are clear.

If staff are still able to work and deliver their normal outputs, whilst balancing caring commitments, e.g. by working at different times of the day or different days to normal, then they should do so (where practicable) and receive their normal pay.

If you have concerns that an employee will not be able to work normally (or at all) while at home with their children, e.g. because they have very young children, multiple children or children with additional needs, discuss this and try to be helpful and flexible. The following options are available:

  • Staff can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to caring commitments.
  • If they can only work reduced hours (and deliver reduced outputs), due to caring commitments, they should do so and receive prorated pay. Alternatively, flexible furlough may be appropriate for carers who are able to work part-time.
  • If furlough or flexible furlough is not an option, staff may want to take:
    • paid holiday, which should be approved and recorded in the usual way; or
    • dependants’, parental or other unpaid leave (please see below).

Please note that holiday entitlement would continue to accrue during any periods of holiday or leave.

Dependants’ leave (employer policy or statutory regime)

While schools are closed, employers may follow any policy they have for emergency leave for employees who need to care for dependants and cannot work from home. If employers do not have such a policy, the statutory regime will apply.

Under the statutory regime:

  • Employees can take reasonable time off where there has been an unexpected disruption to the care arrangements for a dependant.
  • Dependants include an employee’s spouse, civil partner, child, parent or a person who lives in the same household as the employee (not a tenant, lodger or boarder).
  • Time off is unpaid.
  • The purpose of the time off is to make provision/arrangements for care, rather than to provide the care yourself.

However, given the lockdown and the unavailability of grandparents (who may be “vulnerable” due to their age and awaiting vaccines),  parents may have no other option but to look after their children themselves. It might, therefore, be “reasonable” for an employee to take dependants’ leave for the duration of school closures.

Parental leave

This is another type of unpaid statutory leave and is available for all parents with a child/adoptee under 18 years old.

Parents are entitled to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave per child/adoptee, of which only 4 weeks can be taken each year (in weekly blocks).

If extended dependants’ leave is available while schools are closed, employees are unlikely to need to use parental leave.

Potential Tribunal claims

If an employee is subjected to any “detriment” or dismissed because they have requested or taken dependants’ or parental leave or if they are unreasonably prevented from taking leave, they can bring a Tribunal claim. The 2-year qualifying period for unfair dismissal does not apply in such instances.



These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice

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