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COVID-19: school closures and working parents

On Friday 20th March 2020, the decision was made by the UK Government to close all schools for the foreseeable future, in a bid to try and delay the spread of coronavirus. 

In addition to schools, both public and private, the decision included all childcare settingsincluding nurseries and childminders and further education colleges – putting an increasing pressure on working parents.

I’m a working parent, what should I do?
In order to continue the fight against the virus, schools and childcare providers have been asked to continue to provide their services to a small number of children; only those whose parents or guardians are critical to providing essential services during the pandemic.

Key workers include, but are not limited to:

  • Health and social workers
  • Education and childcare
  • Key public services
  • Local and national government
  • Food and other necessary goods
  • Public safety and national security

The full list of key workers can be found here

Additionally, if you are able to work from home, your situation may be slightly easier than those that can’t – depending on your child’s care needs. One option would be to discuss flexible hours with your employer to create a routine that allows you to care for your child while also fulfilling your job duties.

I’m not a critical worker and I’m unable to work from home; what should I do?
Employers have an obligation to offer parental leave. Parental leave is unpaid, but you’re entitled to a total of 18 weeks leave for each child or adopted child, until the age of 18. There is a set limit of four weeks to be taken in any year, unless otherwise agreed by your employer.

What are my rights?
Your employment rights, pay, holidays and returning to work, are all protected whilst you are on parental leave. It is important to remember that parental leave applies to each child, and not an individual employer. For example, if you’ve got one child and have taken 8 weeks parental leave with a previous employer, the maximum you can take with your new employer is 10 weeks, as long as you are still eligible.

You qualify for parental leave if you meet the following criteria:

  • You’ve worked for your current employer for more than a year
  • You’re named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate or you are expected to have parental responsibility for the child
  • You are not self-employed or a ‘worker’, eg. an agency worker or contractor
  • You’re not a foster parent (unless you have secured parental responsibility through the courts)
  • The child you have parental responsibility for is under 18

Next steps
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many employers are trying to remain as flexible as possible during this time of uncertainty. Your contract of employment should state any special benefits or requirements regarding leave for childcare, but as long as you are eligible, you are legally entitled to parental leave.

If you have any questions regarding parental leave, your contract of employment, or how your employment may be affected during the COVID-19 outbreak, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist Employment team via email on

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