In the light of the Prime Minister's announcement on 22 September 2020, employers should continue to enable and support staff to work from home wherever possible, as per Public Health England's guidelines.
Your staff may continue to experience difficulty managing childcare responsibilities and finding appropriate childcare during this time. Employers should exercise discretion and use the flexibilities they already have in place to support staff.
On 21 September, the Government announced an exemption from local lockdown measures for childcare arrangements, for children under 14 and for more vulnerable children. This exemption acknowledges that the restriction of inter-household mixing in areas of local intervention could cause hardship for families, and may affect the ability of essential workers, such as front line NHS staff, to do their job.
Staff who rely on care in informal settings such as through partners, relatives or friends are still likely to be affected by Government policies on social distancing as well as health concerns for those most vulnerable.
Where staff are not self-isolating but are absent from work due to childcare issues, employers should refer to their local policies and procedures to determine pay. Parents have a right to parental leave of up to 18 weeks that they can exercise if they have exhausted their annual leave entitlements during the pandemic.
We are aware that organisations across the NHS are revising and using policies flexibly to support staff at this unprecedented time. The following list highlights specific measures put into place by some NHS organisations:
- guidance for line manager discussion points including; working patterns, working hours flexibly to share caring arrangements, flexibility with start and finish times to support caring arrangements, review of priorities/duties
- detailed FAQs covering this topic and highlighting good practice for teams and line managers
- revision of some HR policies. for example flexible working to support staff
- flexible use of special leave to support staff, for example, use in hours over several weeks rather than blocks, HR agreement for discretion to extend paid leave.
Employers are also encouraged to speak to neighbouring trusts to ensure consistency and best practice across integrated care systems (ICSs) and sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs).
NHS England and NHS Improvement is collating examples from NHS organisations, relating to childcare and supporting working parents through COVID-19. To share what your organisation is doing or to find out more about the work of others please contact email@example.com
Employers should be aware of the financial challenges that staff may be facing and consider the ways they can support. Guidance is available in our COVID-19 section, and NHS England and NHS Improvement has also produced a guide focused around financial wellbeing.
Employers may also wish to promote tax-free childcare options for staff who are parents of children who are 11 or under. Many organisations also offer salary sacrifice schemes and should ensure these are promoted to staff.
Staff can also be signposted to the Childcare Choices website, where they can check if they are eligible for free childcare.
There are also concerns outlined by the British Medical Association (BMA) that the challenges around childcare could widen gender inequalities in the medical profession, outlining the importance of employers implementing flexibility for their staff.
NHS Charities Together
In addition to financial wellbeing guidance, NHS trusts may be interested in exploring funding routes via NHS Charities Together, an organisation that works with trust to support staff, volunteers and patients by funding projects and services. Each NHS charity has received funding from NHS Charities Together’s COVID-19 appeal. This grant funding is provided to support staff, volunteers and patients adversely affected by COVID-19. Funding decisions are made locally on application to the local NHS Charitable Funds Committee.
Providing applicants can demonstrate a need which is recognised as a priority by the charitable funds committee, grant funds of up to £50,000 can be accessed to support staff wellbeing, including issues impacting working parents and carers. NHS Charities Together has endorsed COVID-19 funding to support NHS staff in this way. NHS organisations interested in looking into this further are asked, as a first step, to check the directory of NHS Charity members, available on the NHS Charities Together website.