'My Home-Schooling Hell' - working parents and their right to Furlough
Associate Lawyer, Employment Team
Lawson-West Solicitors, Market Harborough
With the recent United Kingdom lockdown and dreaded school closures, many people are forced back into the horror that the first lockdown presented, combining working-from-home with home-schooling.
As a working parent myself, with a 6-year-old only child, I am fully aware and conscious of the trauma and guilt the juggling act creates.
Recent changes to the Furlough scheme - working parents
The furlough scheme rules were tweaked on 5th Jan - see here and this time, the Government has introduced the potential for employers to place working parents on the Job Retention furlough scheme alongside the existing provisions. This is a fantastic idea and one that would be a welcome course of action and solution for many parents but realistically is this possible?
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was originally set up to allow businesses some ability to seek recovery of some or all the salary overhead for those industries that could not fully operate during the lockdown and for employees who may suffer redundancy because of the downturn in trade. The furlough scheme provided that 80% of an employee’s salary would be paid up to £2,500.00.
Fast forward to present day, the situation with businesses has not changed, in fact in some cases it is worse. Taking a practical view, whilst employers are sympathetic to working parents' needs, is it realistic for employers to furlough employee parents away from the business? Is it possible for employers to only recover part of some people’s salaries (if the government does not provide the employee’s full salary) and what is the impact on the existing employees?
The new rules permitting furlough leave for working parents has created a divide in some industries. If employers refuse the request, there is undoubtedly going to be ill-feeling, resentment and animosity combined with a potential lack of productivity. The role that the working parent undertakes maybe pivotal to the business needs and in this situation, an employer may simply not be able to function properly if that person is absent.
- The furlough scheme, whilst holding good intention, does not consider the financial implications for both parties. Some companies may not be able to offer the full salary to their employees and some staff may not be able to survive on the 80% or £2,500.00.
Existing staff lose out
At no time is any consideration given to the impact that the loss of that person will have on the remaining staff. It is very possible that the workload will need to be shared between remaining member employees, who may not have the capacity to undertake the additional responsibilities and duties. This could then lead to remaining employees becoming overloaded, suffering stress, and becoming unwell. Risk: in this situation the employer may find they have a critical employee absent on furlough leave (where they have to remain for a period of 3 weeks) and another employee certified unfit to work, leaving the employer very exposed.
There is no doubt that this would create a divide between those that have children and those that do not within workplaces causing animosity to form and a divided work force. One could argue that to furlough employee parents actually discriminates against remaining employees who do not have children and are forced to work on, but there is no current legislation to support this type of unfairness argument.
That said, currently as a working mother myself, I can whole-heartedly say that juggling completing your responsibilities to your employer with your obligations to your children and their educational needs is extremely difficult.
Most working parents are being forced to work obscene hours, some opting to work late at night and into the early hours of the morning just to keep pace. This is not ideal or something that can be sustained for long durations as this itself will cause considerable ill health.
Impact on Productivity
Productivity of the working parent is likely to be impacted as they are trying to undertake work and homeschool. The working parent has an obligation to their employer, which, if they do not complete, triggers fear of reprisal or the potential to lose their role. Many women have reported that their careers have become stagnant because some employers are losing confidence in them to deliver. This added pressure is creating many women to be left behind in their professions, which is unfair and unreasonable.
- Many working parents, especially those that earn more than the government permits in the scheme, simply cannot afford to be placed on furlough leave as their income, which is vital to the running of their homes will be slashed and therefore successful career parents are being penalised.
Is the answer to make it mandatory for all working parents that are having to engage in homeschooling to be placed on the Job Retention Scheme?
Is the answer to raise the amount of money the government provides to the employer so that they can afford to place those working parents on furlough leave?
Is the answer to give business some relief that allows them to place the individual on furlough leave and recruit into the company to cover the shortfall?
Is the answer to allow flexible furlough so that parents can work part-time with relief to the employer? Or is the answer to open the schools again to give the parents a chance to work?
"I am afraid as it stands I personally and professionally cannot see that many employers will be able to allow working parents to be placed on the furlough scheme, for reasons set out above, and the fact it is currently a voluntary scheme entirely at the discretion of the employer.
There are going to be some vey difficult and tough weeks ahead. I am waiting and watching for the solution to develop, but for now, if you are able to speak with your employer to discuss your struggles and try to develop a plan that works for you both, without the need to consider the furlough scheme, it would appear to be the most sensible way forward."
Government changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) [5 Jan 2021]
Furlough scheme extended to 30 April 2021 [18 Dec 2020]View all