Legal answers: home schooling, what are my rights with flexible hours?
In this article: Many people will be trying to balance returning to work with homeschooling children, but what are your rights? Taylor and Emmet’s head of Employment Law Kelly Gibson explains
While employees with more than 26 weeks’ service have the right to make one formal request for flexible working in any 12-month period, this route is unlikely to be appropriate for many employees for what is hoped to be a reasonably short period of school closure.
Any changes that are agreed following a formal flexible working request are usually a permanent variation to an employee’s terms and conditions of employment (unless specifically agreed and documented). And an employer has up to three months to deal with a formal flexible working request.
Where an employee that is home schooling is able to work from home, it’s almost always best for employers and employees to work together on an informal basis to come up with a solution that is workable for both parties.
ACAS has produced some guidance in this area, which recommends that:
- Employees who are looking after children should talk to their employer. The employer should be sensitive and flexible towards the employee's situation.
- Employers and employees may be able to agree a more flexible homeworking arrangement. Examples of this could include:
- working different hours;
- agreeing that the employee may not be able to work a full day or a full week;
- reducing work targets;
- being flexible about deadlines where possible.
Where an agreement is reached with an employee, it’s best practice to document in writing exactly what has been agreed, for what period and when any arrangements will be reviewed. Additionally, if an employee reduces the number of hours they work in a week and it’s agreed that their pay will be reduced on a pro-rata basis, this will also need to be agreed in writing with the employee.
While it’s hoped that employers and employees are able to come up with a workable solution to allow employees to combine working from home with home schooling, it’s the case that some roles simply aren’t suitable for homeworking or that in some circumstances, it may not be possible to find a solution that works for both parties. In these circumstances, there are a range of options that are potentially available, for example:
- Provided both employer and employee meet the eligibility criteria, it could be agreed that the employee is put onto on “furlough leave.” If this is agreed and the necessary formalities are dealt with, the employer can apply for a grant that covers 80% of the employee’s usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month.
- An employee could potentially exercise their right to take to take time off work in order to deal with emergencies involving their dependents. Such time off is usually unpaid, unless an employee’s contract of employment, (or any relevant policies), says otherwise. It should be noted, however, that this right is intended to deal with unforeseen disruptions to childcare arrangements and the duration of this type of leave would not usually be expected to last more than a couple of days. It’s therefore unlikely that an employee could rely upon this right for a sustained period of time.
- An employee with more than a year’s service could, potentially request a period of parental leave. Qualifying employees have the right to take up to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave per child before their 18th birthday and can take up to 4 weeks’ parental leave each year. Parental leave must usually be taken in blocks of one week.
- An employee may take holiday days to cover some of their absences, which could potentially be combined with a period of unpaid leave.