Beyond lockdown: Back to work but not back to school

Wednesday May 20, 2020

In its roadmap for reopening society launched earlier this month, the government revealed a projected timeline of which businesses and areas of society can open and when. The guidance is subject to a number of over-riding principles, such as public health and the ability to manage and maintain a COVID safe environment.

Some businesses are permitted to open sooner than others. Some sectors, for example education, have a phased reopening and could be operating – but at a much lower capacity.

The reopening of schools plays an important role in restarting the economy by allowing many people to return to work. However, the proposed timeline to reopen schools means that many establishments may not be open until August.

This is likely to have a major knock-on effect for many businesses nationwide who are preparing for employees to return to work.

There is much more to dissect from the roadmap to reopen society, and we will continue to delve into the detail in our beyond lockdown series. For now though, let’s look at how the proposed schooling timetable could impact your plans for getting back to business.

What is the plan for reopening schools?

Ireland’s recovery roadmap details five phases for reopening society and informs us of the government’s plans from now until early August. The plan for education and childcare is as follows:

  1. Phase one (18th May): School and college buildings reopen for teachers to access, organise and distribute remote learning.
  2. Phase two (8th June): There is no mention of education, so the previous advice remains.
  3. Phase three (29th June): Creches, childminders and pre-schools accessible for children of essential workers in a phased manner. Social distancing and other requirements will apply.
  4. Phase four (20th July): Creches, childminders and preschools accessible to children of all workers on a gradually increasing phased basis (e.g one day per week) and slowly increasing thereafter.
  5. Phase five (10th August): Primary and secondary schools and other academic institutions can open on a phased basis at the beginning of the academic year 2020/21.

How might this affect people management?

Those who employ parents are going to need to consider the impact that this situation might have on their employees. Will working parents be able to return to the workplace when needed?

Many schools may still be closed to most students when businesses are bringing employees back to work. Additionally, some parents may not feel it is safe to send their children back to school and could be experiencing stress.

As parents try to maintain a good work/life balance during trying times, employers can help in a number of ways. This can both support employees and ensure minimal disruption to the business. By pre-empting potential problems before they arise, it is possible to find a suitable work around.

HR solutions during school closures

Eligible working parents who have been employed for at least one year are entitled to a limited amount of unpaid parental leave to take care of their children. Consider having discussions with employees early on to see if they plan on using parental leave. From September the allowance is increasing to 26 weeks, ask us if you have questions about the process.

Flexibility is key. It has already been recommended that employers introduce staggered start times or shift work to assist social distancing. Flexibility of working hours can also be of great help to those with family commitments.

Working from home wherever possible is also still highly recommended. But those with young children may find it hard to focus or complete deadline driven tasks. Offering reduced hours or seeing if certain tasks can be re-assigned can help.

Alternatively, it has been reported that the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme will be extended beyond mid-June (12 weeks after it was initially opened) and temporary layoffs through the scheme may be a solution for your business. There are many rules involved, so please ask us if you are seeking further understanding of how to utilise the scheme.

You may find that there are a few bumps in the road to reopening your business, as both you and your employees adjust to a very different way of working. Make time for mental health by listening to employees concerns and remember that we are here to listen to yours.


Preventing People Problems

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