Options for parents as businesses return to work

The prospect of businesses reopening after the lockdown is great news for the economy and jobs, for a daunting prospect for many parents.

It can be hard to juggle work with parenting responsibilities, especially during this pandemic where traditional childcare options are few and far between.

With this daunting prospect ahead, charity Citizens Advice has published guidance for parents to help them understand their options.

The thought of returning to work after being furloughed, while juggling childcare, can be a daunting prospect. This is particularly the case for parents who would usually rely on family and friends for support, but can’t at the moment due to social distancing guidance.

Parents and guardians who are struggling have a number of options. Anyone who is unsure of what to do can visit the Citizens Advice website for more information, and can speak to an adviser online or on the phone for more help.

Tracey Moss, Senior Employment Expert at Citizens Advice, said:

One option parents can consider is to ask their employer to be furloughed.

Currently, the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme remains in place until the end of June. The government has said that employees who can’t work because of childcare responsibilities can be furloughed under the scheme.

If you’re furloughed, your employer will pay you 80% of your salary and can claim this money back, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

Some employers are taking a more generous approach, topping up the furlough grants and paying their employees in full.

Another option for parents to ask employers about flexible working.

If your employer needs you to work, then they should consider allowing you to work flexibly, at times to suit you, or carrying out different tasks or working for fewer hours.

Citizens Advice says that some employers may suggest you take paid annual leave.

Finally, you could ask your boss for unpaid leave until you have childcare in place and can work again.

If you can’t be furloughed or work flexibly, this option of unpaid leave with no fixed end date could allow you to meet your childcare responsibilities while keeping your job open.

This ‘indefinite paid leave’ should be confirmed in writing, so you have a record of the agreement.

Employers can say no to these options, but they are legally obliged to consider letting you have some unpaid leave but only for a limited period.

Unpaid leave could be parental leave, which you can request if you have worked for a business for at least twelve months.

You can have unpaid parental leave for each of your children.

The law says this unpaid parental leave can be as much as four weeks per child per year, with a maximum of 18 weeks in total for the whole period until they reach age 18.

You need to give your employer at least 21 days notice before you want to take unpaid parental leave, but some bosses are more generous than the rules, allowing less notice or longer periods of unpaid leave.

Another alternative is to ask for time off for a dependent.

You can have some unpaid time off to deal with unexpected problems or emergencies with your child. The time off has to be ‘reasonable’ and you can only have enough time to deal with the urgent problem.

If you’re paid less than normal as a result of a flexible working arrangement or the furlough scheme you should check if you can get benefits to help.