Working from home with children – how can employers help?

During the first lockdown, a stress awareness study found that the 2nd most common cause of stress for employees when working from home was having to balance childcare with their workload. Over a quarter (27%) of the respondents cited childcare as an issue – so now that schools are once again closed and kids are back home, employees are likely to be feeling this stress once more.

Stressed employees aren’t going to produce good work for your business and prolonged stress can lead to long-term mental health issues. So what can you as an employer do to help employees balance childcare with working from home?

1. Allow flexible working hours

Depending on the type of business you run, you may be able to support employees with childcare obligations by allowing flexible working hours. With flexible working hours parents and carers would be able to complete their work outside of the typical 9-5 schedule to coincide with when their children require less attention (e.g evenings) or when another caregiver is present. While this can often be discussed and agreed informally, you should consider updating your HR policies to reflect any expectations you have around flexible working – for example, a certain time of day when you require all employees to be accessible. This provides employees with a clear understanding of what is expected of them and can reduce the hassle of grievances in the future.

2. Reduce the employee’s working hours

If flexible working isn’t an option, you can still help your employee work around their childcare schedule by reducing the hours they are expected to work each week. Since this could result in reduced pay for the employee, you will need to carefully review any relevant terms outlined in their employment contract and make updates to their contract if necessary.

3. Permit annual leave

Many families during this period will not be able to risk reducing their regular pay so an alternative (if flexible working is impractical) is to permit your employees to use their annual leave while they take care of their children. While this may be a good short-term solution for some parents and carers, you’ll want to be mindful that employees using too much of their annual leave allowance this early in the year could leave them with too little to use effectively later on. In this case you could see an increase in sickness and absenteeism towards the end of the year. If taking time off from work is the best route for your employee, you should consider the furlough scheme.

4. Put employees with childcare obligations on the furlough scheme

When the furlough scheme was updated in November, the government clearly stated

“Your employee is eligible for the grant and can be furloughed, if they are unable to work, including from home or working reduced hours because they:

  • have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19), such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in their household”

It should be noted that as an employer you don’t have to allow employees to use the furlough scheme because of childcare obligations. However, Working Families raise a good point in regards to denying mothers access to the furlough scheme “It could be argued that an employer’s policy to refuse to furlough employees will have a disproportionate impact on women and could amount to indirect sex discrimination”

Furloughing parents and carers who request it is the most favourable option for many employers since 80% of the employees wages are paid by the UK government – with employers only required to contribute to their pension and national insurance. Learn more about the furlough scheme.

We always say employees are the life blood of any business; let us help you to support them through this time in a way that keeps your business strong.

For more advice, get in touch or give us a call on 0777 374 7396.