This request during parliamentary questions, arose following a TUC survey of 50,000 women which suggested that 71% of working mothers, who requested furlough for child care reasons in January 2021 (following school closures), had their requests refused. On the back of this survey, the TUC issued a warning that low paid mothers were being hit hardest by this pandemic and needed more provision to keep them "afloat".

As ever with this pandemic, there seem to be no winners; many employers are struggling with high levels of absences whilst trying to keep their businesses viable and employees are equally struggling with the conflicting demands of their work and home life.  

Whilst there may be no winners, there are steps that employers can take to ameliorate the stress on their organisations and on their staff;

  • does the employee requesting furlough qualify as a critical worker (the guidance is found here) and so can request a place for their child(ren) at school?
  • if the employee does qualify for a critical worker place at school but is not taking it up, it is worth having a conversation to find out more information; does the employee know they are a critical worker? does the child need to shield? or is there a shortage of critical worker school places in the area?
  • is there a conversation to be had about flexible furlough; when could the employee work, given their caring responsibilities? 50% or even less time worked is most likely better than full-time furlough.
  • are there any other paid leave options within employment contracts and leave policies that have yet to be exhausted; is there any paid leave to be carried over from last year? is there any paid dependents' leave to be used?
  • the key is clear communication; a flat rejection for furlough, no questions asked, no reason given, is unlikely to help the situation in either the short term or long term. The employee might in any event not come into work and claim sickness absence thus leaving the role empty and needing to be done by someone else. In addition, could there be an indirect discrimination claim waiting to be bought if furlough is routinely refused for those with caring responsibilities who are still statistically more likely to be women?

If you would like any more specific advice on this, please do contact one of the Employment and Pensions Team at Anthony Collins Solicitors -  employmentandpensions@anthonycollins.com.