Working parents under pressure as lockdown eases

Working parents will struggle to return to employment this month following the government announcement that schools are not likely to re-open until September.

As lockdown continues to ease, many parents have been asked to return to work despite having children who are too young to look after themselves or without child care due to social distancing of family members and nurseries.

Employers have been warned to be mindful of making assumptions about whether parents can or cannot work.

Speaking to HR magazine Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said it is more important than ever that employers understand how to support parents and carers facing unavoidable childcare challenges.

She said: “Employers should continue to make use of the furlough scheme for parents who cannot practically work because of their caring commitments, including the new part-time furlough option beginning in July for parents who are able to work on a reduced-hours basis."

Education secretary Gavin Williamson abandoned plans to reopen schools before the summer holidays, instead stating schools will be asked to take in whatever children they can while sticking to the rules on maximum class sizes of 15 pupils and social distancing.

Jo Moseley, senior associate of employment practice at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said employers need to be mindful of the pressure currently on parents.

“There's little point in insisting someone returns to work if they can't and if employers do this they'll undermine the implied duty of trust of confidence between the parties. An employee could then resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal and may also be able to bring a discrimination claim- as it’s possible this will impact women more than men.

“Instead, employers should talk to their employees about options available to them which might include allowing them to continue to work from home, furloughing them or allowing them to take unpaid parental leave or annual leave.”

Zyl also looked upon the growth of remote and flexible working due to COVID-19 as beneficial for working parents.

She added: “We strongly encourage employers to take a reasonable and pragmatic approach as to how work can be organised around caring responsibilities. COVID-19 has demonstrated that flexibility exists in many more roles than previously thought possible—now is the time for employers to step up, innovate, and enable different ways of working that benefit parents and carers.”

Emma Jayne, area director of people and culture at Dorchester Collection, has welcomed this new level of flexibility into the workforce.

She said: “Employers have some great opportunities to support these employees through being flexible on the hours they work and not expecting a solid 9-5 routine which clearly is not feasible right now. Flexible working can really bring out the best in people and trust from an employer can really help this to thrive.

The current crisis is a great opportunity for working parents to connect with one another within a business, Jayne added.

“Working parents can really lead by example in this area too – the future of work will look very different and this group of employees are a great example of doing things differently already.

"They definitely need some moral support right now so encouraging working parent employees to get together online to support and listen to one another and perhaps share some tips and advice - it’s a stressful time for Mums and Dads of preschool and school age children and a little empathy will go a long way.”

Further reading:

Workers encouraged to return to work where possible

Never ‘switching off’ overwhelms working parents

Mothers face job insecurity and increased childcare responsibilities during lockdown