Hybrid working and childcare

Hi all,

My employer is questioning employees working from home while having children.

A lot of our employees work hybrid, and shifts rotate from normal 9-5 to 12-8 late shifts.

Employer is now trying to push the fact that employees should not work from home with their children, as this brings the “legality” of things. For example, if children are unsupervised they might hurt themselves and employees would sue the company.

I however question this as as far as I am aware it is not illegal to work with children at home as soon as targets are not affected and work performance doesn’t change. It also questions the fact that late shift workers, especially single parents would not be able to use after school clubs and other means of childcare while working. Especially when company promotes itself as family friendly and flexible.

What would be your thoughts on this?

Does the employer have a strong standing or this is just seems as a possible discrimination issue.

Also considering that before this was never an issue and suddenly something that employer puts in question.

The job is mostly customer service oriented with answering calls and emails.

Child age was not brought up or advised, the performance or possible noise was also not brought up, the only issue in question is legality.

  • I'm not aware of any legal issues here except perhaps data protection/GDPR issues if the child sees confidential information on a screen?

    Operationally yes, quite a few issues. But not legally around H&S at least.
  • A single position on this is unlikely to be helpful, as people's experiences of WFH will be so different. My 'child' is 14, so would be very unlikely to need help with feeding, distraction or supervision during my working hours, if I needed to work at home. When she was 4, it would have been a very different experience.

    The issue to me isn't about having children at home when you're working, but a risk assessment of who is in charge of them (particularly if they are pre-secondary age), and what impact that has on your employee's ability to work.

    Equally, I think it would be a brave individual who would sue their employer for their own lack of supervision of their children. My concern would be about productivity and distraction, not negligence.
  • It is neither illegal nor unintelligent to expect that staff working remotely aren't simultaneously responsible for immediate childcare. Remember that, in this situation, the remote working location - usually, but not always the home - is analogous to the office. Imagine trying to do your job while also caring for a young child. Inevitably, either the job or the child will be neglected.

    Given the nature of the role, I cannot believe that calls will be consistently answered quickly and that customers will be given the full attention of their call handler during the call if the handler is also using half an eye to check that their child isn't diligently working out exactly how large a Lego brick they can fit into their nostril or discovering that they have literally just grown tall enough to reach the handle of the draw that contains the *really* sharp knives.

    More than once I have had to tell an employee in a meeting about remote working that working from home is *not* a substitute for professional childcare.
  • If you are paying for someone's time e.g. the contract says 9am-5pm, then they should not be caring for a child in that time - I do get the arguments of output vs time but businesses generally aren't there yet.

    As others have said, older children tend to not need care and could be no different than having a partner at home at the same time, so this is more a data protection issue, however, younger children, will be more demanding.

    I allow WFH with children on odd occasions e.g. if the child is sick and a team member is logging on from home to help with a project (and this would be recorded as a normal working day and not [unpaid] emergency leave). But I would not allow WFH as a means of childcare, as we need to be available during business operating times to take calls, attend last minute meetings etc.

    If you are a business that focuses on output rather than hours then I can't see having children at home whilst working being an issue, as the question becomes more about were deadlines met as opposed to availability during certain hours.

    The only H&S issue I can see is that if the home is a place of work, the employer should undertake risk assessments, DSE assessments etc, and would having a child around cause any risks of harm?
  • I am generally of the view that this is unacceptable for small children that need care. Even as the most hardcore advocate of flexible working there are all sorts of potential issues with this from the impact on productivity and customers to also the impact on other colleagues.

    As a general rule, I would say that parents should not be (primarily) caring for children in the home whilst also undertaking work. This does not apply to emergency situations like a school closure or childcare breakdown where the parent is aiming to put childcare in place. This does not mean that children cannot be in the home, such as when other parents are present.

    It is entirely reasonable to have a policy that states this - as other commentators have said there can be some nuances and it is hard to do a one size fits all, but as a general rule I have usually gone with children in primary school and younger.

    There is no legal issue here and no discrimination.
  • In agreement with colleagues on this, the company I work for has recently moved to a fully remote way of working and are in the end stages of closing down our office and even we have stated that remote working is not a substitute for childcare and those with caring responsibilities of any kind need to ensure that suitable arrangements are in place (just as they would have if they were in the office).
  • There are lots of wise words on this already. I would probably also ask what the demographic of customer services staff looks like. I would hazard a guess that they may be women. I find it unusual for employers to question how men take care of their kids, they presume often there is a female care giver. I'd also be curious if your company provides any assistance with childcare and what the pay level is....does it mean your staff can pay for escalating childcare costs. All of those points are not legal obligations but they do provide a context. I would be concerned that this employer is being biased and that the bias is fuelled by one or two instances which could be probed sensitively rather than introducing rules or policies for any staff who happen to have children. I'd approach with caution personally. This feels like it needs more nuance.
  • Hi Eugenie,
    Our WFH policy states:

    “While working remotely, you must be available and working during your normal hours of work, as set out in your contract of employment.
    During your working hours, your home office must be set up without undue distraction and you must be able to conduct business conversations freely and without compromise …….”

    So for those with older children that don’t need supervision that is fine, but those with younger ones that do need supervision are excluded from doing so as they would not be available for work, would be distracted and might be unable to have conversations with customers/colleagues.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    8 Nov, 2023 11:18

    In reply to Steve Bridger:

    I'm pleased that  asked this question at this time. It won't surprise anyone to learn that this topic is frequently discussed here, as regulars will know. Where is the line to be drawn? Is there a line to be drawn?

      rightly said in the April 2022 thread (below) that "working from home isn't a substitute for childcare" but as  and  say... we also need to see the nuance and be open to being flexible in each case. "It is hard to do a one size fits all", as Gemma says.

    Sharon also makes a good point...
    "I find it unusual for employers to question how men take care of their kids, they presume often there is a female care giver."

    Also in the April 2022 thread,  wrote "when you factor in the cost of living crisis as well as difficulty in accessing childcare it's not surprising that workers want to balance all of these considerations as best as they can - and it's in their interest to make it work, so they'll likely be trying their hardest in that respect."

    Johanna also signposted this CIPD report:

    Here are some relevant discussion threads from the last year or two...

     Employee refusing to work hybrid due to childcare arrangements - May 2023

     Flexible working and childcare - March 2023

     Remote working with toddler present - February 2023

     Wfh, core hours while looking after baby/child - January 2023

     Working from home and caring for a child - April 2022

     Dealing with work from home request for childcare reasons - boss not keen - March 2022

     Children at home while remote working - where to draw the line? - May 2021, coming out of the pandemic

    ...and a discussion around this topic from 2018, pre-COVID.
    Working from home with children in the house 

    Welcome to our Community, too  

  • The employer's stance on prohibiting employees from working from home while having children raises concerns, including potential discrimination, lack of flexibility, and unrealistic expectations.

    Discrimination: By singling out employees with children as unable to work from home, the employer is potentially discriminating against them based on their parental status. This could be a violation of the Equality Act 2010

    Lack of Flexibility: The employer's policy is particularly inflexible for single parents or parents with children who have irregular schedules. It effectively disallows these employees from using work-from-home arrangements as a viable option, even if they are able to meet their work obligations while caring for their children.

    Unrealistic Expectations: The employer's concern about unsupervised children hurting themselves and the company being sued seems unrealistic and overly cautious. It places an unreasonable burden on working parents to ensure that their children are constantly supervised, even during work hours.

    Possible Legal Issues: The employer's policy could lead to legal challenges if it is deemed discriminatory or if it causes undue hardship for employees with children.
  • In reply to Deleshia Clarke:

    Welcome to the forums, Deleshia.

    I think you've slightly misunderstood the scenario. It's not people who have children who can't work from home. It's people working from home *while they are also responsible for the direct supervision of those children* that is the problem. There's no issue of direct discrimination - although Sharon makes a really good point regarding the tendency to assume that women are more likely to attempt to undertake childcare responsibilities alongside remote working, so we should be aware of indirect discrimination in such issues.

    The employer's concern about unsupervised children hurting themselves and the company being sued seems unrealistic and overly cautious.

    I agree, but the far more realistic concern is that employees who are caring for children *aren't doing their job at the same time*!

    It places an unreasonable burden on working parents to ensure that their children are constantly supervised, even during work hours.

    It isn't an unreasonable burden to expect parents to have childcare before undertaking employment. It is common sense. People don't bring their children to the office. Drivers don't take their children in the cab. Production workers don't (anymore) have their children playing around their feet (or, indeed, working alongside them). Exactly the same expectations apply to those working remotely as apply to those working in a conventional workspace.

  • Thank you all for your replies. Many views are very helpful.
    The main point would be not the question of performance, unfortunately, as this was not mentioned and due to the specifications of the role, performance is measured by statistics including number of calls taken, the length of wrap up time and general stats.
    This was never a question previously and has only raised recently after one employee requested to reduce office presence to more home working due to recent diagnosis of Autism.
    I have mentioned the fact that it seems suspicious that the “childcare” issue was only mentioned after that diagnosis. The employee performance does not change from location and does not raise questions, therefore I am wary of the employer suddenly questioning the “legality” of working from home with children.
    The contract never mentioned anything about childcare and inability to work while having children, the role is advised as hybrid with shifts between daytime and evening, as well as Saturdays, where any childcare is not physically possible unless employee hires a nanny, that is understandably not cheap or affordable to many, especially during this economy.
    Employee did offer to sign any additional documents as agreement to not claim for any incidents while working with children around just to put the employer at ease, however it seems company is adamant of not being flexible in this way.
    It also brings the fact that employer has fully remote workers in other cities who are not expected to be in the office and so far are not questioned on their childcare arrangements.
  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    CIPD Staff

    13 Nov, 2023 12:08

    In reply to Steve Bridger:

    I saw a really striking quote from I think, Pregnant then screwed, on their instagram, 'Yes of course my children will be here sometimes. They live here.'

    Which is of course completely true. Alongside, partners, teenagers, house-mates, carers, contractors, pets etc. It goes with the context of 'the home'.

    The aim is professionalism, productivity and flexibility on both sides - if home working is agreed.

    Wraparound childcare is extremely expensive, there are waiting lists and there is not enough of it. Children get sick, they have holidays/ inset days etc. Often there may be some juggling required by mums, dads, grandparents, older siblings. My personal opinion is employers and workers need some mutual understanding of this and while it's essential to set clear expectations and guidance for remote working, there does need to be some realism and empathy added to the mix. Your employees (potential and future employees included) will thank you for it!

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    13 Nov, 2023 12:11

    In reply to Johanna:

    A distraction from a focus on outcomes?