With schools across the UK set to close on Friday 20 March for an indefinite period of time, many parents are worrying about how to care for their children as well as carry on working.

Option 1 – Request Flexible Working

These are uncertain times and although there is a right to request flexible working where you have 26 weeks’ service, you may need an answer quicker than a formal process would allow. Therefore, we would advise you to immediately speak to your manager about the possibility of working flexibly, making sure you explain how you can work around your children, how you can keep in touch with your manager and any colleagues, and what flexible working would look like – would it involve a change in hours or the ability to work from home (if you are not already working from home).

Your employer may be keen for you to carry on as normal as far as is possible and because this is an unprecedented situation both parties should expect to be flexible and to change as and when the situation changes.

Option 2 – Parental Leave

Employees who are parents can take a total of 18 weeks leave, unpaid, to care for a child. The employee must have responsibility for a child and can take the 18 weeks in blocks of one week or multiples of a week up to 18 weeks. During parental leave your terms and conditions in relation to notice period, redundancy, and disciplinary and grievance procedures continue to apply. You cannot be subjected to a detriment or dismissed for taking a period of parental leave.

In order to take parental leave you should check if your employer has a policy and follow any process set out in that. If they do not have a policy, you should give notice and comply with any request to provide evidence of your responsibility for a child

Option 3 – Time off for Dependants

If you know you will be unable to work flexibly and you have used all your parental leave, you may want to request leave under the right for time off to deal with a dependant. This is a right for all employees to deal with emergencies – you can take reasonable time off to where it is necessary to make care arrangements for a dependant, and to deal with the unexpected disruption of care arrangements for a dependant (as well as other specific grounds).

This time would be likely to be unpaid unless otherwise agreed with your employer. You will be protected against being dismissed or subjected to a detriment provided you have informed your employer as soon as possible of the reason for your absence and how long you expect to be away from the workplace.

We suggest telling your employer immediately about the school closures and effect it has on your ability to come to work and asking if they have a policy about taking time off for dependants.

Option 4 – Taking annual leave paid or unpaid

Your employer may be able to agree a period of paid and/or unpaid annual leave for you in order that you can stay home to look after your children.

For paid leave, you need to request this in line with your employer’s usual policy. For unpaid leave, you would need your employer’s agreement so should ask as soon as possible and give an indication of whether or not you can be available for any work if needed.

For further advice on your rights around balancing childcare and work, contact Farleys’ employment team on 0845 287 0939 or contact us by email.