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Pandemic has caused career crisis for parents and carers

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Many employers may not be giving fair treatment to parents and carers whose work has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study by Karian and Box and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London.

The research found that parents and carers have had to go to great lengths to carry out their jobs during the pandemic and some have faced potential career penalties as a result.

Just over one third (34%) of the organisations surveyed said they do not have a clear policy on how line managers should handle performance conversations with an individual whose work has been impacted by the need to care for children.

A further quarter (25%) said they do not have a clear policy in place to mitigate against redundancy for employees who have had time off work due to caring responsibilities or illness during the pandemic.

Fifty-seven per cent of businesses surveyed believe more than a fifth of their employees have had to use annual leave to manage work and caring responsibilities during the pandemic, while 31% believe the same proportion of their workers have had to reduce their working hours to balance these responsibilities.

While 79% of the organisations surveyed said they have increased support for flexible working, 36% said they do not have specific policies to consistently deal with short-term flexible working requirements from parents during the pandemic.

Professor Rosie Campbell, director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said women continue to undertake the greatest share of unpaid caring work in the UK and have already been disproportionately represented among those laid off during the pandemic.

“If more isn’t done to ensure that those who took on the bulk of the caring during the lockdown aren’t the first to be out of work, we risk losing a massive pool of talent from the workforce and reversing progress on gender equality, neither of which will help achieve the economic recovery we all hope for,” she added.

In June this year, a separate survey from the CIPD found that around half (46%) of working carers had taken annual leave to fulfil caring responsibilities, and almost a quarter (24%) said they had had to consider giving up their job because of it. As many childcare facilities have remained closed due to pandemic restrictions, many parents have been struggling to return to the workplace.

An earlier study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and UCL Institute of Education also revealed that mothers were 23% more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs temporarily or permanently during the crisis.

Speaking to HR magazine, Andrew Bazeley, policy insight and public affairs manager at Fawcett Society, commented: “Employers need to take careful steps to ensure redundancy processes are fair and not discriminatory, such as discounting furlough from absences and assessing performance for work done, not periods missed due to childcare responsibilities during the crisis.

"We don't yet have a clear picture of redundancies, but if they end up impacting mothers disproportionately, we risk setting back women's employment by a generation, losing vital skills from our workforce, and hampering the recovery.”

The study, which was carried out between 23 June and 20 July 2020, surveyed 228 global organisations representing sectors including accountancy, banking and finance, law, business, consulting and management, media and internet, and retail.