Back to school: Handling short-notice absences

Patrick Whelan

September 03 2020

Although schools are back, we have already seen that they need to take quick action if there is a COVID-19 risk. With pupils being sent home or some schools even closing, your staff may need to leave urgently to pick up a child from school. This scenario looks likely to play out in schools all over the country in the coming months.

That means you need to prepare for short-notice absence requests from working parents.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s no existing employment law outside of force majeure leave that your business and employees can rely on to deal with these absences.

So, it’s important to prepare for this scenario as best you can, as soon as you can.

What is force majeure leave?

Force majeure leave allows employees to take paid leave to deal with an urgent matter affecting a family member. In short, it would allow a parent to collect their child from school in the event of a COVID-19 situation.

That said, force majeure leave doesn’t cover longer-term absences, e.g. a parent self-isolating or minding a child who needs to restrict their movements.

Force majeure leave is also limited to three days over the course of twelve months. So, that makes it unsuitable for a fourteen-day isolation period.

How to handle absence

In these unprecedented times, a flexible approach is the best course of action.  

Developing an ‘unexpected absence’ policy and communicating it to staff will ensure your employees understand the position your business is taking and their own leave entitlements.

Broadly, this type of policy should include details of how employees will notify you of any such absence and how your business will treat this type of absence. For example, it could confirm that working from home is permitted or that the time will need to be taken as unpaid leave.

Employees should also be made aware of any sick leave policies which may be relevant if employees themselves need to self-isolate.

Labour Party proposals

The Labour Party has also recently proposed a Bill that would give employees a right to six weeks’ paid sick leave if they’re affected by COVID-19.

The Bill includes a parental leave component that would entitle parents to time off to care for their child should they be sent home from school.

In the meantime, your business should engage with employees to find a mutually acceptable solution to any urgent school-related absences.

Need our help?

For further complimentary advice on short-notice absences from an expert, call us any time day or night on 1890 252 923 or request a callback here.

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