There is limited statutory provision for time off for employees who have to look after their children when schools, nurseries and other childcare providers are closed.
The statutory right to time off for dependants provides for a period of unpaid leave to take action necessary because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant. This would cover time off to arrange alternative childcare in the event of a school closure, but it does not cover extended time off for employees to look after their children themselves. Some employers may have a policy on time off to care for dependants that is more generous than the statutory minimum.
Employers should keep in mind that advice on self-isolation and social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak is likely to make it more difficult for employees to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children. Employees may have no option but to stay at home themselves.
Employers will therefore need to consider alternative arrangements, such as allowing the employee to work from home where possible or agreeing to a period of paid or unpaid leave.
An employer could allow employees to take annual leave in this situation, as an alternative to unpaid leave, although employees may not have sufficient holiday entitlement to cover the absence or may be unwilling to use their holiday for this reason. Employers can require employees to take annual leave by giving them the required notice.
Where an employee is self-isolating, in accordance with government advice, they will be entitled to statutory sick pay even where they are not ill.