working from home with children

Member Article

Marium Razzaq, Partner at JMR Solcitors talks about WFH and Parental Responsibility

Working from home with a family can be very difficult. In these unprecedented times, you may find it hard to find balance in your life. However, there are things you may be able to do, even with added pressures, including education, which can make parents ever more nervous of every impact of their responsibility. Employer Response

It’s important that parents are able to communicate their difficulties effectively with their employer while working from home. Flexibility can really take off the load. It’s important that employers accommodate workers with children during this difficult time. Failure to do so can send a negative message to employees, and can be damaging for the companies reputation. In the worst case scenario, refusing to be flexible can even lead to legal battles. If you’re a parent, what does that mean for you?

If WFH employees are struggling with parental responsibilities, the employer is to consider any opportunity to change the working environment. This could include being open to altering work hours tol benefit the employee with parental responsibilities. There is also the option, if feasible, to reduce the hours of the worker to ease pressure, although this could have an impact on salary, and should be agreed with the employee.

There is a need also not to treat every employee the same in disciplinary matters. If one employee is noticeably or actually not producing set tasks in the usual or expected timeframe and to the standard of quality required, they cannot use that one employee as an example to find leverage to ‘bring all staff back into the workplace’.

To not discriminate against WFH parents is very important. The decision to furlough employees is ultimately down to the employer. This decision needs to be very carefully made on the employees behalf, in line with the organisation’s needs. Personal circumstances are to be assessed. In circumstances where the parent WFH is a key worker - and where they are finding the WFH arrangement difficult with parental responsibilities overlapping with their work - is the solution to keep them working despite the recent closures of the schools? We do recognise that schools can be opened for children of key workers, but there are separate risk focuses needing to be measured, and a requirement for parents to be able to make correct choices - employers need to help and support their staff in the most appropriate way. Furlough TUC

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) recently highlighted that employers should be giving the option of furlough to those employees who are parents working from home, following the recent enforcement of school closures. Lockdown means that there is potential for a perception that the pressure falls on the parent to make all the right decisions in the right order to the benefit of everyone - employer, partner, children, school and government. This is a lot of responsibility, and we need to find a solution that isn’t just a one-size-fits-all remedy, with a degree of humility and common sense to support individual families as they map out the best route for them.

The recent closure has left many WFH employees with parental responsibilities in a state of chaos and real difficulties. Employers are being urged to understand the need for help during these times for parents on their payroll.

Mental Health

As touched upon in this article a number of times, there is a key pressure on employers and their staff who are parents. Each party is seeking to find the best way forward for their respective needs, and a high percentage of parents will be experiencing a level of guilt when they are unable to balance their childcare needs and responsibilities in terms of their job role. We said at the beginning of this article that there was an importance in communication between employer and employee, and here we go further. We strongly urge that a caring ongoing conversation is held, so that honest commentary can be offered. It is only in supportive and caring conversations that the best outcomes for mental health can occur.

Below, we highlight some key methodologies we know will be of use for employees and employers, in order to ensure the best balance is struck.

Mental Wellbeing

There is a key issue of humanity here, and we would suggest that employers might find ways of setting up key routes towards supporting mental wellbeing. You could establish some online resources - bought from a third party and offered. This could lead to some time being programmed into an employee’s work day that allows them to pick out key resources, maybe meditation or some supportive reading, or an activity decided by the employee to take time for themselves. This will reduce levels of guilt that may be occurring and show care from the employer’s perspective. Some employers have even given access (when the tier system was in place) to funds for gym memberships to be taken up by employees.

Family Friendly Policies

We have seen a number of employers implementing a greater and more defined work/life balance. These could be based around existing family friendly policies linked to time out of the day to collect children from school. It could also be linked to unpaid leave. If employees are at home and have additional support needs in terms of education or wider needs of their children, there could be different options, including unpaid leave, or flexible furlough as part of a working week that allows for parents to take time off and increased time given for work to be completed in these circumstances.

Support networks (online)

You could also have a very positive approach to the social or private establishment of support networks. A firm based in the North East has recently appointed a Mental Wellbeing Coordinator. This person has been given resources and holds one to one and group sessions during the week, which everyone gets time off for. This is a way for the employer to show a) that they care about their employees and b) whilst they are a small company, they have an incredible level of care for their staff. Safeguarding is essential to ensure support networks are used correctly, supplied correctly, and are not abused. But as a key component that adds value to parents’ daily work and childcare requirements, it is a very good way to ensure employees are feeling cared for, and that they can be sure to have added items that give them mental wellbeing opportunities each week as the lockdown continues.

In summary, it is hugely important that we have a very human outlook when it comes to how employers work alongside their employees at a time of crisis. There is a need for employers not to put pressure or increased emphasis on a demand for continued pace and delivery of workload. People who have childcare responsibility are going to require flexibility, and in the interests of a time when we will get through the other side of the pandemic, it would be beneficial for employers if their staff return to work, and all in one piece. The future is the key here, and care and understanding now will no doubt be repaid with loyalty and a greater care for the business longer term, thereby avoiding retention problems.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by JMR Solicitors .

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