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Show common sense over home schooling or risk longer-term issues’, Glasgow lawyer warns businesses

Ben Doherty

Employment specialist suggests flexible furlough may be an answer for many firms trying to help staff cope with Covid-19 school and childcare pressures 

Businesses face longer-term problems if bosses do not show common sense and sympathy to help staff balance work and home schooling, an employment law expert says.

Ben Doherty, the Glasgow-based Head of Employment at legal firm Lindsays, has issued a reminder that flexible furlough can be used to help manage professional and personal demands.

Speaking after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that home learning would continue until at least mid-February, he urged a pragmatic approach from bosses, wherever possible, to ensure the best for their staff and business.

Mr Doherty said: “Home working and schooling is a difficult balancing act for parents – and is clearly not without its challenges for businesses with their own demands either.

“The best advice I would offer employers in supporting staff in this situation is: Be flexible, kind, sensible and reasonable.

“By doing that, employees will hopefully be able to help businesses meet their obligations. At the same time, staff are more likely to remain loyal to an employer who has worked with them – and that has to be better for business longer term.”

Lindsays, which also has lawyers based in Edinburgh and Dundee, is dealing with enquiries from companies eager to understand how they balance their legal obligations to support staff welfare with moral ones.

Mr Doherty says not everyone realises that the furlough scheme can be used to help firms and families cope with the latest lockdown.

He explained: “It’s a common mistake to think that someone can only be furloughed full-time. But that’s not the case.

“Flexible furlough means people can be furloughed for even part of a day, with the Government paying 80% of that time’s salary.

“Depending on specific business demands, some managers and employers are taking a practical view that it’s better to have somebody working part-time, able to focus on their job, than them trying to help teach their children while working at the same time. They may get more work done – and more effectively.

“The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme means it’s also possible to place someone on furlough if there is a childcare issue that could pose a problem to a business.”

Scottish Government rules to stem the spread of Covid-19 mean that only the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils are allowed to go into school or nursery buildings.

The First Minister told MSPs she hopes that a phased return can begin from the middle of next month (February). The next update on the continuation of wider lockdown measures will be on February 2.

Figures released by HM Revenue and Customs in December showed that about 110,100 people in Scotland were fully furloughed, with about 85,000 partially furloughed. The UK Government has said furlough will remain in play until March 31st.

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