Parents of children who are off school have faced a dilemma as the easing of lockdown restrictions has seen an increasing number of workplaces reopen.

The government has urged people who cannot work from home to return to offices, factories and building sites, but what are people's rights if they have young children to look after?

On Monday (June 1), some schools partially reopened, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils returning to classrooms.

But there are still scores of children who haven't gone back in, meaning parents have had to stay at home to look after them.

In fact, a survey carried out by the National Education Union (NEU) yesterday showed that only eight per cent of schools in the north west have reopened to more pupils this week.

Some primary schools have been on half term, while staff at many other schools said it was too soon to invite more pupils back in.

Earlier this week, prime minister Boris Johnson said that not being able to secure childcare was a reason to be let off returning to work.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, he said: "We are doing a huge amount to support families in terms of their income and their basic inability to go back to work.

“As I said several times, obviously employers have to be reasonable and if someone can’t get childcare then that is clearly a reason for them not to be able to go back to work.

“We want to do everything we can to help you with childcare if we can.

“We will try and get more schools back in due course but it is, I’m afraid, all conditional on making progress in fighting that virus.”

Issues may still arise if employers refuse to be flexible with parents.

Kevan Nelson, UNISON North West Regional Secretary, urged employers to be fair and cooperative.

In a statement to the Manchester Evening News, he said: "The prime minister's comments clearly state that employers should show understanding for employees who are unable to return to work due to lack of childcare provision.

"Many employers do have flexible working policies and we call on employers to consider the unprecedented circumstances presented by this pandemic".

People are struggling with work and childcare responsibilities

What are my options if I need time off to look after my children?

Mr Nelson cited the rules laid out in the job retention scheme, which permits employers to allow those with childcare responsibility to take furlough.

However, it is ultimately up to the employer to decide whether they claim for this.

An employer can claim for 80% of your wages up to £2,500 per month if you need to stay at home.

"According to the Government’s guidance for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, an employer is permitted to place an employee on furlough if they are unable to work because of caring responsibilities resulting from the coronavirus", Mr Nelson said.

"Parents also have legal right under s.57a of the Employment Rights Act 1996 to reasonable time off for dependents leave if care arrangements have been disrupted,"he added.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is a non-departmental public body which provides free and impartial advice for employers and employees when they have an issue in the workplace.

ACAS states that if employees need emergency time off for childcare or to make new arrangements, they can use:

The ACAS website has advice for employers and employees when arranging time off for childcare.

Many children are still of school due to coronavirus

They urge employers and employees to talk to each other early on about time off that might be needed, agree regular conversations so both can plan ahead and to agree flexible working instead of taking longer periods of time off, for example working from home or changing working hours to allow for childcare.

If any agreement is made, it's a good idea for it to be in writing, the ACAS website says.

There are also other options for parents - such as parental leave, unpaid leave, or sick leave - depending an individual's personal circumstances.

Again these options need to be discussed with an employer, to see what is available.

An employee is also legally allowed time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.

For more information on your rights, click here.

But what are the rights of employees if their bosses refuse to give them time off?

Issues may arise if an employer tries to force an employee to come into work when they need to stay at home to look after children.

Danielle Ayres, an employment lawyer at Stockport-based Gorvins Solicitors, told the Manchester Evening News this week that she has been inundated with enquiries from stressed parents.

Speaking to Manchester Family, she said: "We have received an inordinate amount of enquiries from working parents, especially since the latest government announcement that schools will reopen for some on 1 June and those that cannot reasonably work from home should return to the workplace - in those industries that aren’t still on lockdown.

"There are many issues that working parents are facing, even if they are still working from home due to having to juggle childcare and workloads.

Danielle Ayres, solicitor at Gorvins Solicitors

"Whilst some employers are being sympathetic others still require a full day’s work to be done. That often means people logging on very early, some as early as 5am, or late into the evening to be able to look after their children in the day and still get there work done.

"Others, especially with younger children, are finding it hard to do any work at all and even though the government have said those with childcare responsibilities can ask to be furloughed this isn’t a given right. It’s meaning working parents are having to use all the annual leave or take paid leave or cut their hours/days down which impacts on their pay."

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said anyone who is having difficulty with their employer can contact ACAS as their 'first port of call'.

There is a hotline that employees can ring for advice, for more information, click here.

ACAS can also assist with an employment tribunal 'if it comes to that', the spokesman added. 

UNISON's Kevan Nelson had further advice for parents who are struggling to negotiate with their employers.

He urged people to speak to their colleagues, and to get in touch with their union representatives to explore options.

He said: "We would encourage anyone whose employer is not being cooperative to talk to other colleagues who are facing issues with returning to work, contact your union and challenge your employer collectively."