From Saturday 4 July, many businesses - including pubs and restaurants - will be able to open for the first time since the lock-down. Employers are starting to 'unfurlough' staff or put them on flexible furlough to help them put in place all necessary measures to ensure their premises are 'Covid safe'.
But what are your options if some members of staff can't return because of childcare difficulties?
Schools remain closed for most pupils in England and aren't likely to re-open to all year groups until September at the earliest. Nurseries, before and after school clubs and some holiday care providers have been able to open since 15 June, but it's not clear how many have done so.
Many parents also rely on the support of family members and friends to help with childcare. The rules around this are quite complicated. If a household has formed a 'support bubble' with another household, they can meet in each others homes and don't have to adhere to social distancing rules. So, if a member of staff in a bubble with a family member who looks after their children, they should be able to return to work.
From Saturday 4 July, people can meet indoors in family gatherings involving two households, but they are expected to socially distance from anyone who is not in their own household or bubble. That effectively means that other family members won't be able to look after babies or young children, but probably can look after those who are old enough to do most things for themselves.
It's therefore likely, that if you have working parents in your workforce, some may struggle to return to work until their usual childcare arrangements are in place.
Tips for employers
1. If you haven't already done so, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. We recommend that you take advice first to avoid potential unfair dismissal and discrimination claims.
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“Early signs are that many summer childcare clubs will also be unable to run this year,” she added. “There is still no strategy in place to get all children back to school from September and no support has been provided for the childcare sector as we face the loss of 150,000 childcare places. We face a crisis of maternal employment and a widening gender pay gap. Government must urgently address that.” - Sam Smethers, The Fawcett Society