With schools and nurseries now shut to the vast majority of children, and employees working from home unless it is “absolutely necessary” to do otherwise, employers and employees are rapidly having to find new ways to work effectively as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Clear communication from management remains key, as does the need for both parties to act flexibly.
This edition of Employment Law Now sets out some practical guidance for employers when managing employees who need to care for children or dependents whilst working from home.
Acas has just published this updated guidance on working from home. It covers various issues including health and safety, mental and physical health, equipment and technology, setting expectations, and expenses. In relation to working from home and childcare it says that “The employer should be sensitive and flexible towards the employee’s situation…[both parties] may be able to agree a more flexible homeworking arrangement”. It goes on to suggest some examples of what this might include:
– Working different hours;
– Agreeing that employees may not be able to work a full day or a full week;
– Reducing work targets; and
– Being flexible about deadlines where possible.
In addition to the above, we have advised a number of clients on ways in which this new (and unfamiliar) situation can be managed. These include:
– Agreeing informal flexible working arrangements (on full pay and without the need for a formal flexible working request) – for example, where an employees’ partner is also working from home, allowing that employee to work in “shifts” to cover childcare;
– Introducing a form of “emergency leave” which might provide for full pay for a set number of days (for example, five or 10 days);
– Introducing a form of “additional emergency leave” with conditions attached – for example, it might only be available once an employee has taken a period of paid annual leave and/or a period of unpaid leave;
– Introducing a form of leave to cover adverse external conditions – this might give managers discretion over employees being able to take paid leave for an unspecified period of time;
– Reducing hours and pay by agreement with employees;
– Requiring employees to take paid annual leave;
– Agreeing that employees can take a period of unpaid statutory parental leave; and
– Agreeing periods of unpaid leave/unpaid sabbaticals.
When considering these options, employers need to be alive to the associated risks and limitations. You may require new policies, guidance notes and/or associated documents, and in some situations you may wish to consider issuing formal letters varying terms and conditions of employment.
Every situation is different. Our Employment team is fully up to date with latest developments and ready to provide commercially driven advice should your business require it.