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Return-to-work childcare issues - 7 Steps for Employers

Return-to-work childcare issues - 7 Steps for Employers

Even though many workplaces have reopened and employers have started to re-engage furloughed staff, or have opted to place some employees on flexible furlough for the time being, there is still the question of childcare for return-to-work parents.

Schools in England won't re-open to the majority of pupils until September at the earliest, even though some children's nurseries have been able to open since 15 June. The ongoing situation for parents with childcare needs remains difficult to manage, especially if both parents work full-time and school-age children cannot be left with relatives.

In these circumstances, parents have no alternative but to work from home (if they are able to), or share the childcare on alternate days of the week or changed hours if their employers are able to embrace that level of flexibility.

According to Personnel Today, there are 7 ways HR teams and employers can approach the issue of childcare for stay-at-home working parents:

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1. Start the 'return-to-work' conversation

If you haven’t already done so, you should start having conversations with your staff about returning to work. If they can’t return because of childcare (or have any other difficulties) the sooner you find out the better.

2. Determine the level of flexibility

Find out if a different (and possibly temporary) working arrangement will help them. Can you adjust their work hours to accommodate what childcare they do have available? Or, can they work from home?

3. Childcare responsibilities can be complex

Don’t make assumptions about who will provide childcare in a family unit. Many families endeavour to share responsibilities between parents and may want to try and juggle this alongside work.

4. Be careful not to insist

Don’t just insist someone returns to work if you know they genuinely can’t because of the lack of childcare. If you do, it is likely to undermine the implied duty of trust and confidence between you and them and, if they have two years’ service, they’ll be able to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.

5. Flexible Furlough extended to October

Any parent that has already been furloughed for a three week period between March and the end of June, can be re-furloughed for all or part of their usual working hours. Bear in mind that you’ll have to contribute to the costs of furlough from 1 August.

6. Think outside the box

If you’ve not already furloughed a member of staff, there are other options you can consider with them such as taking annual leave, unpaid parental leave, or an unpaid sabbatical.

7. Explore all the options

You may be able to dismiss any member of staff that can’t return to work within a reasonable time-frame, but that would be a “last resort” and you’d be expected to have explored all other options first and warned them that their job is at risk. Take legal advice first to avoid potential unfair dismissal and possibly discrimination claims.
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By now, your company will have identified groups of employees that are either operating successfully in the workplace, considering a full or phased return to work, working from home, or have been furloughed/re-engaged.

Employers should also have an understanding of the childcare and health issues (including mental health issues) that could limit an employee's ability to return to work at this time. Childcare can sometimes be more complex than you think with modern family structures and you can't jump to conclusions about how to solve getting parents back to work.

Vaishali Thakerar

If your business activities are hindered by the childcare issues of employees and you need to discuss how best to re-engage staff back into the workplace at the right time, please contact Solicitor and Head of Employment, Vaishali Thakerar, on vthakerar@lawson.west.co.uk for an impartial and supportive view.

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