COVID-19 School closures and Parental Leave

March 28th, 2020

What do working parents do now schools are closed?

The government made the decision to shut schools from Friday 20th March for the foreseeable future in a bid to try and delay the spread of Coronavirus throughout the UK. In turn, this has put additional pressure on families with working parents, especially those who are unable to work from home.

The decision was made to close all childcare settings, schools and colleges to reduce the risk of the Coronavirus spreading to the vulnerable individuals in our society.

In order to continue the fight against the virus, schools and childcare providers have been asked to continue to provide their services to a small number of children whose parents or guardians are critical to providing essential services during the pandemic.

Critical workers

The full critical workers list can be found on the government website. Some of the key workers listed are those who work in the following areas:

  • Health and social workers
  • Education and childcare
  • Key public services
  • Local and national government
  • Food and other necessary goods
  • Public safety and national security

I’m not a critical worker and I’m unable to work from home… what do I do?

Employers have an obligation to offer Parental leave. Unless your contract of employment says otherwise, parental leave is unpaid, and you’re entitled to a total of 18 weeks leave for each child or adopted child up until the age of 18. There is a set limit of 4 weeks to be taken in any year, unless otherwise agreed by your employer.

Your rights

Your employment rights (pay, holidays and returning to work) are all protected while you are on parental leave. It is important to remember that parental leave applies to each child, and not an individual employer. For example, if you’ve got one child and have taken 8 weeks parental leave with a previous employer, the maximum you can take with your new employer is 10 weeks, subject to you being eligible.


The government website states that you qualify for parental leave if you meet the following criteria:

  • You’ve worked for your current employer for more than a year
  • You’re named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate or you are expected to have parental responsibility for the child
  • You are not self-employed or a ‘worker’, eg an agency worker or contractor
  • You’re not a foster parent (unless they’ve secured parental responsibility through the courts)
  • The child you have parental responsibility for is under 18

Your employer may require that any requests for parental leave be made in writing with at least 21 days’ notice. Check your contract of employment and any policy that may set this out however given these unprecedented circumstances, employers may be prepared to a take a more pragmatic approach and relax any requirements.

Your contract of employment should state any special benefits or requirements regarding leave for childcare, but remember if eligible, you are legally entitled to parental leave.

If you have any questions regarding parental leave or your contract of employment, please don’t hesitate to contact our Employment Law team on 02392 981 000 or email