The Swiss insurance firm Zurich has introduced fully paid “lockdown leave” for parents and other carers in its UK offices.
The company’s UK division said it would offer two weeks’ paid leave for parents facing childcare emergencies because of the closure of primary and secondary schools across the country.
Zurich estimates this will benefit more than one in five of its 4,500 UK employees who have children. The 10 days’ additional leave can be taken individually or consecutively.
Employees who are struggling to juggle work and caring for elderly parents or other vulnerable family members are also entitled to take 10 days’ lockdown leave.
Zurich said it was the first insurance firm in the UK to announce such a move, and could be the first company overall to do so.
Steve Collinson, Zurich’s head of HR, said: “With schools closed, working parents will be frantically trying to juggle their jobs and childcare responsibilities. We already offer flexibility for employees who want to change their working hours or structure some days differently.
“But for parents trying to balance work, childcare and home schooling, this may not be enough. We’re helping our employees get through this crisis by offering mums and dads paid time-off so they can look after their health and their family. This is also available for anyone with other caring commitments.”
Matt Potter, who works in IT for Zurich, said he was “very impressed with the offer”. He will ask his manager for the next five Fridays off to enable him to look after his two daughters, aged seven and nine, whose school closed on Tuesday.
He and his wife work full-time and have been working from home near Southampton since the first lockdown in March. “We’ve got quite an issue here with trying to be teachers and looking after the children,” he said.
Schools are closed until at least mid-February in England as part of its third Covid-19 lockdown, with pupils moving to online learning. Scotland has also embarked on another lockdown this week, and schools will remain shut until 1 February, while those in Wales are closed until at least 18 January. Schools in Northern Ireland have been told to remain shut for an unspecified period.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson said schools in England would be first to reopen when the lockdown lifts – but stressed he would be “extremely cautious” about when that could happen.