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Coronavirus school closures - what are my rights to time off?

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If you're one of the millions of parents who have to deal with school closures, make sure you know your rights to time off to care for them.
Mother and child at home. Photo: Maskot

School and nursery closures to deal with the Coronavirus epidemic will cause real problems for working parents.

Lots of mums and dads will have no choice but to take time off work to care for their child.

However, not everyone has the right to take time off and it can mean families face a big drop in income.

So what are my rights?

As things stand, the law allows many working parents to take two types of leave – both of which are unpaid.

Many working parents and guardians have a right to emergency dependants leave. This can be taken at any time without needing to give notice, and is for a period of between several hours and several days.

This is unpaid, and only covers sorting out an immediate problem, but may be helpful when faced with sudden school closures.

Working parents and guardians are also entitled to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child in their care. That leave can be taken at any point before each child turns 18.

This leave must usually be taken in blocks of a week, and you can used up to four weeks of it each year.

If your child is disabled, you can also take the leave in shorter blocks if you need to.

If you are taking parental leave of four weeks or less, your employers should hold your original job open for you, or if they can’t do that you are entitled to a similar job with at least the same status and conditions.

With unpaid parental leave, your employer is allowed to insist that you give 21 days’ notice of your intention to take this leave.

To access either of these rights, you have to be an employee (to have a ‘contract of employment’) and have to have worked for your current employer for at least 12 months.

These are the legal minimums though.

Many employers will provide a better entitlement for parental leave, such as allowing you to give less notice, or making it and dependants’ leave paid or part-paid leave.

Check your own terms and conditions to see where your contract differs or talk to your union rep.

It is more likely to be the case that in workplaces where there’s a union, there are enhanced rights, as unions prioritise negotiating better rights to family-friendly leave.

Can you help us make this better?

We think these rights don’t go nearly far enough. For most people, the idea of going weeks without pay just isn’t an option.

And millions of people at work aren't legally categorised as employees so miss out on key employment rights.

Nobody should be faced with the threat of losing their income or losing their job, just for following the government’s advice in an emergency and staying home to look after their kids.

We’re calling for emergency time-limited changes to allow people to take immediate leave to care for their children, at full pay, and reimbursed to the employer by the government, as they do for maternity leave.

We think this should apply to all workers including those on agency or zero-hour contracts, freelancers and the self-employed.

We know the government can act – they agreed to day-one sick pay when we pushed them on it – so please help us put the pressure on for working parents.

You can find the latest updates on the virus, the government response and how to reduce the risk of transmission at the website. 

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