Parents And Key Workers

Please note that the Government, employers and other organisations are using the terms “critical workers” and “key workers” interchangeably to describe the same group of people.

Are You A Key Worker?

Schools, and all childcare providers, have been asked by the Government to continue to provide care for a limited number of children, including those whose parents are critical to the COVID-19 response.

The Government has published a list of key workers here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision

The Government publication goes on to say:

“If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.”

Devolved Government Policies

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have produced separate lists of key workers:

Wales – https://gov.wales/written-statement-eligibility-ongoing-provision-children-who-are-vulnerable-or-whose-parents-are

Scotland – https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus—school-and-elc-closures-guidance-on-critical-childcare-provision-for-key-workers/

Northern Ireland – https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/list-key-workers

How do I find out if I am classified as a key worker?

1. If your employer has not already confirmed that you are a key worker, in the first instance, you should speak to your line manager.

2. If your manager confirms that you are a key worker, you should ask your manager to provide written confirmation of that. Most schools will ask you to provide evidence that you’re a key worker before accepting your children.

My child is being sent to another school which is much further away from home and it will make it impossible for me to start at my usual time, what should I do?

The Government publication says “If your school is closed, then please contact your local authority, who will seek to redirect you to a local school in your area that your child, or children, can attend.”

If it’s going to take you longer than normal to take your child to school, it’s important that you raise this with your line manager as soon as you know what the position is so that he/she can plan accordingly. If any problems arise, please contact the Advice Team straight away so that we can advise you.

My school says that I’m not a key worker or that I don’t qualify in their opinion, what should I do?

We’ve received numerous calls from members who have been told by schools that, in their opinion, the members are not key workers, or they don’t qualify for school childcare because only one parent is a key worker. It seems that cases are largely being decided by individual schools making arbitrary decisions.

Some members are clearly going to be stuck between their employers and schools; here’s our advice if you have been identified as a key worker and your school is refusing to provide care:

1. Members’ primary concern should be providing care for their children.

2. Members need to contact line managers straight away if they’re in this position and explain the circumstances, following up with confirmation in writing of what’s been said. The Advice Team can assist you with this if necessary; please call us on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

3. In England, children with at least one parent or carer who is identified as a key worker by the Government can send their children to school if required. Single parents who are key workers will be entitled to a school place. In Wales and Scotland, the position is less clear and to an extent people seem to be being left to make up policy as they go along.

4. It’s important that members also write to the person they’ve spoken to at the school to confirm what they’ve been told. Members should make the point that they do not accept that what they’ve been told is a correct interpretation of Government policy and ask schools to confirm, in writing, the basis for their stance. Again, the Advice Team can assist you with this if necessary; please call us on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1). Where necessary, the Union will involve itself in helping members enforce their rights with schools.

Will I be paid if you have to take time off to care for children?

Some employers have confirmed that they will pay staff full pay if they have to take time off to care for children, but it is currently down to individual employers to decide whether or not they will pay. Some people will be covered by existing contractual arrangements for paid emergency time off to care for children. You should speak to your line manger to confirm whether or not emergency time off to care for children will be paid.

Emergency Leave

At the very least, all employees have the right to emergency leave, although this is unpaid.

Employees are allowed time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (including children). Employees are allowed a reasonable amount of time off to deal with the emergency, but there’s no set amount of time as it depends on the situation. Employees must tell the employer as soon as possible how much time they’ll need so it can be agreed.

Your employer might agree to you using annual leave in the first instance to avoid the need to take unpaid leave.

Parental Leave

Eligible employees can take unpaid parental leave to look after their child’s welfare. Employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) are protected during parental leave.

Employees are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday. The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take in a year is 4 weeks for each child (unless the employer agrees otherwise). We would expect employers to be reasonable in the circumstances.

Employees qualify if all of these apply:

  • they’ve been in the company for more than a year
  • they’re named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate or they have or expect to have parental responsibility
  • they’re not self-employed or a ‘worker’, egg an agency worker or contractor
  • they’re not a foster parent (unless they’ve secured parental responsibility through the courts)
  • the child is under 18

Employees must give 21 days’ notice before their intended start date, although we would expect employers to be flexible in the circumstances.

Any members experiencing problems should contact the Advice Team immediately on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1). Remember, we’re available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Updated Government Guidance For Critical/Key Workers – Published 22.03.2020

The UK Government has published the answers to some important questions on key workers, which we have reproduced below (they are in italics). If you have any questions on the guidance published by the Government, please do contact us. The Advice Team are available 24 hours a day on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

Please bear in mind that the Welsh and Scottish governments may offer different advice.

Is it compulsory for critical workers to accept their place offer?

No. Many parents working in these critical sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.

When making alternative arrangements, parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, or friends or family members with underlying conditions.

Affinity Advice: If you have been confirmed by your employer as a key worker and you do not have alternative childcare, your children should be eligible for a school place. If schools are still refusing children in these circumstance, the Union will involve itself in helping members enforce their rights with schools. If you need our help, please call us on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

How do we identify pupils who are the children of critical workers?

We know many schools will have already spoken with parents/carers to identify who requires a school place.

If it proves necessary, schools can ask for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as their work ID badge or pay slip.

Affinity Advice: In the first instance, you should speak to your line manager to ascertain whether or not your role makes you a key worker. If your manager confirms that you are a key worker, you should ask your manager to provide written confirmation of that. If any problems arise, please contact the Advice Team on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

Should schools only offer places to children of single-parent critical workers and children where both their parents are critical workers?

Children with at least one parent/carer who is critical to the COVID-19 response can go to school if required.

However, many families with parents working in critical sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. And every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.

Affinity Advice: The advice from the Government is clear. Where necessary, the Union will involve itself in helping members enforce their rights with schools. If you need our help, please call us on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

Will critical workers or parents of vulnerable children be penalised if they do not send their child to school?

No. Children with a parent or carer who is listed on the government’s critical worker list are eligible for a school place. However, many parents working in these sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. And every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.

How should schools identify which pupils are the children of critical workers?

We know many schools will have already spoken with parents/carers to identify who requires a school place.

If required, we recommend asking for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as confirmation from their employer on what their job is and how it is critical to the COVID-19 response.

Affinity Advice: We’ve seen already attempts by schools to avoid taking children of critical/key workers, inventing their own rules. This is not acceptable and members experiencing problems should call us on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

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