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Coronavirus: who are key workers and what happens now?

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Posted by Tina Chander on 20 March 2020

Tina Chander Partner - Head of Employment Law

The past few days have seen a serious escalation in the UK’s measures to combat the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. Millions are tuning in every day to listen to Boris Johnson and the country’s top medical advisers announcing  updates on how we will  “turn the tide”.

One measure introduced sees schools closing today, as such it is clear that some workers will now need to plan their childcare arrangements. But who are key workers and how do you know if your child will still be attending school?

Yesterday the government published an official guidance note for schools, colleges and local authorities. It covers who key workers are, and under what circumstances their children will continue to attend school.

In this guidance note, the government included the following 5 key principles:

  1. If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.
  2. If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is a critical worker, then educational provision will be available for them.
  3. Parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.
  4. Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.
  5. Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings continue to care for children wherever possible.

The government guidance focuses on providing schooling to the children of those that are critical to the COVID-19 response effort. Specifically, the government has named the following groups as key workers:

  • Health and social care;
  • Education and childcare;
  • Key public services;
  • Local and national government;
  • Food and other necessary goods;
  • Public and national safety;
  • Transport; and
  • Utilities, communication and financial services.

Some examples of job descriptions  within the above, include:

  • NHS staff;
  • Nursery staff and childminders;
  • Teachers;
  • Individuals who work for the courts;
  • Prison staff;
  • UK intelligence agency staff;
  • Border security staff;
  • Those working for the National Crime Agency;
  • The emergency services (including the coastguard and any support staff);
  • Agricultural workers;
  • Food processing or distribution staff;
  • Employees of energy companies and water companies;
  • Staff working for telecommunications companies;
  • Postal service staff;
  • Journalists providing public service broadcasts;
  • Employees of funeral homes and other organisations that manage the deceased; and
  • Employees who work for transport companies on the air, water, road, rail or freight.

The above list is non-exhaustive. It is worth noting that the wording of the guidance is expansive and may include additional groups as the need arises in the coming days, weeks and months. The guidance is written with this in mind and states that:

If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.

Therefore, if you think you are included in any of the categories, you should discuss this with your employer immediately. The sooner you have this discussion, the more likely you will be to get these arrangements in place before your child is sent home from school. If you do not initiate this conversation with your employer now, you may have to take unpaid leave to care for your child until this can be resolved and they can return to school.

Whilst the Prime Minister has regularly asserted that schools are safe places for children, this most recent decision is being seen as a major U-turn by many and is concerning for parents. It is essential that you ascertain whether you are a key worker sooner rather than later to minimise disruption.

It is worth noting that vulnerable children will also continue to attend school and include those who are in the social care system or have safeguarding or welfare needs.

About the author

Tina Chander

Partner - Head of Employment Law

Tina is head of our employment law team. She deals with contentious and non-contentious employment law issues.

Tina Chander

Tina is head of our employment law team. She deals with contentious and non-contentious employment law issues.

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