'Lack of support' | Furlough denied to 7 in 10 working mums amid school closures

Furlough denied to 7 in 10 working mums amid school closures

A large number of working mothers who have asked for furlough following the recent closure of schools have had their requests turned down by bosses, new research has revealed.

According to the Mirror, the 50,000-strong study conducted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), found that 71% of working mothers had their furlough requests denied.

The job retention scheme (CJRS) – more commonly referred to as furlough – currently allows bosses to furlough parents who are unable to work due to a lack of childcare.

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Despite this, two in five survey respondents said they didn’t realise that they were able to request furlough since March last year.

Elsewhere, the study found that 78% of working parents hadn’t been offered furlough by their bosses.

TUC calls on ministers

To support workers, the TUC is calling on ministers to clarify that furlough can be used by both private and public sector employers for these purposes.

In addition to this, the trade union body is calling for a temporary right to furlough those who can’t work due to COVID-19 restrictions – including working parents and those who are required to shield.

But, before doing this, the TUC said that bosses should explore all the options with staff, whether this is offering unpaid leave or changes to working hours among other things.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said that although the safety of school staff and children “must always come first”, the “lack of support” for working parents is causing huge challenges.

She added: “…the Government’s lack of support for working parents is causing huge financial hardship and stress – and hitting low-paid mums and single parents hardest.

“Just like in the first lockdown, mums are shouldering the majority of childcare. Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are despairing."

Speaking to the Mirror, a Treasury Spokesman, said: “It’s been clear since the first lockdown that employers can furlough eligible employees who are required to shield, or those with childcare responsibilities, including because of school closures.”

Annual leave to manage childcare challenges

The study found that almost half of survey respondents (44%) told the TUC that they were concerned about the impact that taking time off would have on their finances at home.

Elsewhere, one-quarter (25%) were using annual leave to manage childcare issues.

TUC’s General Secretary explained: “Making staff take weeks of unpaid leave isn't the answer. Bosses must do the right thing and offer maximum flexibility to mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare.

“And as a last resort, parents must have a temporary right to be furloughed where their boss will not agree,” O’Grady added.

Legal expert weighs in

Tabytha Cunningham, Associate Solicitor at law firm Paris Smith told HR Grapevine that it is “well established that women tend to bear the burden of childcare”, therefore it isn’t a “surprise to see this trend continue during the pandemic”.

She explained: “Unlike the previous school closures, this time more businesses remain open and are set up for remote working. 

“Whilst it's clear that furlough can be used for employees impacted by school closures, employers aren’t obliged to agree requests."

“As highlighted in our recent white paper, The Workforce of the Future, the current law in relation to flexible working is no longer fit for purpose and employees have inadequate protection. 

“Whilst the majority of employers are sympathetic to working parent’s needs, it can be difficult for employers to allow all requests for furlough if they still have work available,” Cunningham added.

The importance of supporting working parents

For many working parents, day-to-day life currently sees them juggling work commitments, childcare and home-schooling at the same time.

With that in mind, Cunningham said it’s important that employers support working parents, both in terms of staff wellbeing and for the longer-term future of the organisation.

One key benefit for employees could be the option of flexibility around when employees complete their work.

“Employers who work to find a solution will ultimately reap the benefits in increased productivity and loyalty,” the legal expert added.

“Employers should carefully consider all applications for furlough and other options such as temporarily adjusting hours or allowing furlough on a part-time or rotating basis to help working parents in the current situation,” Cunningham concluded.  

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