Employers’ responsibilities when it comes to childcare during lockdown
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As we start the new year in Level 5 lockdown, Derek McKay, Managing Director of Adare Human Resource Management discusses the responsibilities of employers when managing employees who face childcare issues due to the closure of schools.
The introduction of Level 5 lockdown in December with further measures introduced in the past week should come as no surprise given the alarming rate of Covid-19 infections. Employers were instructed to ensure, where possible, employees worked from home. In fact, many of these employees have been working remotely since last March and were expecting to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, the closure of schools and childcare facilities has presented additional challenges for parents who are working from home and one that has been thrust upon employers again.
It’s worth noting a couple of things. Firstly, there is no obligation on employers, financial or otherwise, to provide childcare solutions for employees. And, while in lockdown, there are no changes to the employer employee relationship; the employer provides the work and tools needed to complete tasks and the employees commit to doing the work as per the terms and conditions of their employment. If an employee is unable to carry out the work as per their contract of employment, for childcare as an example, employers are encouraged to understand the reasons preventing them to do so.
My experience is that most employers are reasonable and will try and find solutions working with their employees providing additional flexibility, whilst seeking to ensure the needs of the business are being met. The empathy and understanding demonstrated by employers during earlier lockdowns provide a good blueprint for how to effectively manage challenges such as childcare while schools and creches are closed.
But it cannot be simply assumed or expected that employees will have the same flexibility as may have been previously afforded to them. There were no doubt lessons learnt by employers and employees alike, arising out of the initial lockdown and closure of schools and creches. There must be an understanding by employees that they have to meet their contractual/ work obligations.
It would be short-sighted of employers not to try and accommodate employees while schools are closed; it is a short-term measure after all. There are some options that employers can explore.
Flexible start and finish times, flexible working week including working over weekends to free up weekdays are all relatively straightforward ways of accommodating employees as much as possible. And, it may help share the childcare responsibilities in situations where both parents have work commitments, particularly if these are traditional Monday to Friday jobs.
Parental leave, annual leave or unpaid leave are also options, although given we are at the start of the calendar year, these may not be as suitable for many businesses or employees.
However, in some sectors such as Manufacturing, the options outlined above may not be suitable, and in such instances the employer may not be in a position to offer such flexibility, given the nature of their work.
My final words of advice for employers are to provide flexibility where you can but do ensure you inform employees through effective communications, that any interim arrangements introduced to support employees with childcare at this time are not intended to be long term arrangements, and do not change the terms and conditions set out in contracts of employment.
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