Employers ‘missing a trick’ on awareness of rights during pandemic


Managers have been flexible with working parents but could make them more aware of their rights

Employers could do more to make working parents aware of their rights to leave and financial support during the pandemic, a study has claimed.

According to Incomes Data Research, 98% of the organisations it polled had taken specific steps to support working parents over the course of the pandemic.

Three-quarters did so through temporary changes to working patterns, including informal flexitime arrangements (58%), temporary changes to shift patterns (43%) and temporary reductions to working hours (28%).

However, only 30% of employers actively reminded staff of their statutory entitlement to request unpaid parental leave. Employees with dependents under the age of 18 have a legal right to request up to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave.

Just 16% had highlighted that employees can ask to be placed on furlough, although this is not a legal obligation.

Other ways employers supported working parents included:

  • Rescheduling work deadlines of priorities (75%);
  • Redistributing work to colleagues (63%);
  • Asked other staff to work additional hours (29%);
  • Through the furlough scheme (25% had intended to furlough staff anyway); and
  • Recruiting new staff to take on outstanding tasks (8%)

Supporting employees’ mental health has also been a priority, according to Katherine Heffernan, principal researcher at IDR.

“While much of this is geared around reminding staff how they can access existing provision, such as employee assistance programmes, trained mental health first-aiders or online information, new measures have often focused on creating opportunities to foster and maintain social connections between colleagues, such as virtual coffee mornings or online chat channels,” she said.

Alongside these efforts, organisations have increased monitoring of mental wellbeing through staff surveys and stress risk assessments.

Heffernan added: “Most activities in this area have been in place throughout the pandemic as large proportions of the workforce have been based at home for extended periods of time. However, some measures we observed, such as guidelines around meeting scheduling and conduct, appear to have working parents’ specific needs in mind.”

Where staff have changed or reduced hours, a number of organisations continue to pay them at their full rate. Few organisations have put in place rigid guidelines around ‘core’ hours employees must work, IDR found, meaning staff can perform tasks around other commitments.

Heffernan said employers were “missing a trick” by reminding workers of their rights to unpaid leave or that they can ask to be furloughed because these schemes would not entail any additional costs for the organisation.

Because the distribution of tasks has changed and there has been disruption to “typical” productivity levels, a quarter of respondents have amended their performance management practices during the pandemic. Over half (51%) put in specific measures for line managers to help them support team members who have been affected by coronavirus.

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