Your rights to time off work as Government confirms plans to shut all schools

The Prime Minister has listed a step-by-step plan to help manage the spread of coronavirus as it continues to sweep through large parts of the UK.

And from Friday afternoon, this will include the closure of all schools in the UK to help Britain control the contagious infection.

Nurseries and private schools are also being told to follow procedures, while the Government will provide vouchers for free school meals to ensure children aren't at risk.

Schools will remain in place for some key workers – such as NHS staff and those employed by the police – however, for the majority, it will mean emergency childcare.

So what are your rights?

"The Government’s decision to close schools will have a massive impact on working parents," Peter Cheese, chief executive of HR body CIPD, said.

"Those that are able to work from home should continue to do so as far as they can. However, this is an exceptional circumstance. Employers must accept that there will be disruption and that working parents will struggle to be as productive as normal.  

"Employers need to make allowances for this and take a flexible approach, especially for people with younger children who will inevitably need more care."

The law states that parents or those responsible for young children quite rightly have more rights at work than others – which is especially crucial right now.

The good news is that you are allowed time off in such instances and your employer can't technically refuse you.

"In an emergency, you are entitled to take time off to make sure your child is looked after. This is known as dependant leave," said Tracey Moss, employment expert at Citizens Advice.

"Your employer can’t refuse you dependent leave if you have no other choice, and you can’t be disciplined or sacked for taking the time off."

It's important to note that while your employer has to authorise your absence – it will, in most cases be unpaid.

"If your employer won’t give you time off, or has disciplined you for having to look after your child, contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help."

If you're unwell with flu-like symptoms that could be linked to coronavirus, these are your sick pay rights.

    I need time off work to look after my child – will I be penalised for it?


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    All employees have the right to time off during working hours to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies.

    There is no legal right to be paid; however some employers may offer a contractual right to pay under the terms and conditions of employment, Acas explains.

    In most cases a day or two will be sufficient to deal with the immediate crisis, but it will depend on the individual circumstance – many employers will choose to pay you for up to two days. Time off beyond this may result in unpaid leave.

    A dependant is defined as a spouse, partner, child, parent, or someone who depends on an employee for care, an elderly neighbour for example.

    The employee must tell the employer as soon as possible the reason for the absence and how long they expect to be absent.

    It's important to note:

    • Time off for dependants is unpaid unless an employer is willing to give paid time off under the terms and conditions of employment.

    • The right is to a reasonable amount of time off – normally a day or two but this will depend on individual circumstances.

    • The right to time off is to deal with emergencies involving a dependant.

    • A dependant is someone who depends on an employee for care.

    The right to time off covers:

    • A breakdown in childcare

    • To put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives

    • To care for a dependant who has fallen ill or taken into hospital

    • To arrange or attend a funeral

    If a day or two is not quite enough, you can request more time off in advance – in what's known as unpaid parental leave.

    Each employee is entitled to up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 5th birthday – or 18th if the child has a disability.

    The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take a year is four weeks.

    You must take parental leave as whole weeks rather than odd days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or your child is disabled.

    Eligible employees can request this type of leave to:

    • Spend more time with their children/look after them

    • Look at new schools

    • Settle children into new childcare arrangements

    • Spend more time with family, such as visiting grandparents

    During this period, all of your employment rights will remain protected – such as annual leave entitlement and your right to return to work.

    To qualify, you must:

    • Have worked in the organisation for more than a year

    • Have "parental responsibility" for the child, as defined under the Children Act 1989

    • Be named on the child's birth certificate or have obtained formal legal parental responsibilities.

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