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“The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on working mothers”

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JuliaMumsnet · 22/02/2021 14:40

As a mother and employment lawyer Caroline Oliver, Senior Solicitor at Didlaw, explains how the challenges of working mothers have increased in the last year and some possible courses of action.

"When the Prime Minister announced school closures once again last month, many working parents let out a collective groan of despair. Like others, I had just returned to work after the Christmas break and assumed my three children would return to school to give me time to balance my responsibilities as a mother and employee.

Working mothers like me find the career versus carer juggle a challenge at the best of times. In the early days of motherhood, our careers take a back seat during pregnancy and maternity leave. Many of us return part-time and we witness colleagues leaping ahead of us on the career ladder. Due to the tightrope of balancing motherhood with a career, it's no wonder that the gender pay gap increases to 25% when we reach our 40s.

The pandemic has led to a disproportionate adverse impact on women like me. We're more likely to be employed in the caring, nursing or hospitality sectors which have been in the front line both in terms of health risk and job insecurity. Women have also assumed the major role of substitute teacher at home. It's no wonder the spinning plates have shattered into tiny pieces, along with the emotions and wellbeing of many women.

Maria Miller MP, whose parliamentary bill is seeking to enhance the rights of women on maternity leave, recently reported that women seeking employment law advice with concerns regarding discrimination has increased fivefold since the lockdown a year ago. A study by PwC in May 2020 found that 78% of those who lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19 are women.

So what employment rights protect working mums who have experienced these Covid-19 related challenges firsthand?

The first key point is that women are protected from suffering unlawful discrimination throughout the course of the employment relationship. This starts at the recruitment stage and so any unfavourable treatment during the application process would give rise to a claim against a prospective employer. This continues through to the point of dismissal or resignation. Any negative treatment relating to terms and conditions, training, promotion, pay or selection for redundancy relating to the status of being a woman, pregnancy, maternity or childcare responsibilities is unlawful under the Equality Act. Unfair treatment relating to part-time status is also unlawful.

My aim here is to make suggestions to help women ride the pandemic storm in the months ahead. Some of the following options might be available:

Furlough – this option is available, in theory, to anyone who is ‘adversely affected by coronavirus’. So women who need time away from work due to childcare responsibilities can request this. Flexible furlough is also an option as this enables you to work some of your contractual hours and receive furlough pay for the remainder. The only drawback however is that there is no right to be furloughed – you can request this but your employer may not agree. A reasonable employer who wants to keep you will.

Flexible working – you have the right to make an application to your employer to work flexibly in terms of hours, days or other arrangements. Employers must consider and respond to each request and either grant it or refuse it based on certain prescribed justifications. Again, you will find out pretty quickly how reasonable your employer is and how valued you are.

Taking leave – In addition to taking annual leave, parents have a statutory right to request parental leave or to take emergency leave. The former is an option to take blocks of one week at a time up to 18 weeks per child until their 18th birthday. The latter can be taken to assist with a short-term emergency related to a dependent. However, with the exception of annual leave which must be paid in full, parental and emergency leave are unpaid.

These are unprecedented times that call for unprecedented measures and understanding between employers and employees. For further information and commentary on options available for working parents whilst homeschooling take a look at my homeschooling blog.

If you’re concerned about how some of the issues raised in this post affect you, discuss your options with your employer informally. You also have the option to raise a formal grievance but don’t do that without thinking of the possible fallout and take advice first. Otherwise, the best advice is to seek early advice and you may wish to consult ACAS, your trade union, a maternity charity or solicitor."

By Caroline Oliver
Twitter: @Caroline2Oliver

Caroline Oliver will be returning to this thread to answer your questions for one hour on the 24th February at 1:30pm, so if you have questions for her, leave them below.

“The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on working mothers”
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nevernotstruggling · 22/02/2021 18:46

I'm a frontline sw. As if furlough was ever an option!! 1st lockdown was hell in terms of childcare and work and my dds were in educare!!!

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TheHoneyBadger · 22/02/2021 18:54

You didn't include get your partner to do his share. I personally am a lone parent but not everyone is.

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refusetobeasheep · 22/02/2021 18:57

What should we campaign for to force change? One thing that comes up time and time again on MN is that the woman has to bend / adapt / resign as the dad's work cannot be flexible (refuses to ask?) How do we shift this mindset?

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StopGo · 22/02/2021 19:22

If you a professional and highly qualified woman is still coping with the majority of the child care and wife work, what chance do women without your privilege have?

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AssassinatedBeauty · 22/02/2021 19:26

@refusetobeasheep

What should we campaign for to force change? One thing that comes up time and time again on MN is that the woman has to bend / adapt / resign as the dad's work cannot be flexible (refuses to ask?) How do we shift this mindset?

I think this is where expanding paternity leave is one possible strategy to address this mindset. Give much longer state paternity leave that enables more men to be involved with parenting from the beginning. Then companies would get used to the idea that both men and women will take time off when children are involved. Conversations around childcare will inevitably happen when men take longer paternity leave. That would help to break down the assumption that it's always the women who will put their work aside to deal with the children.
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Endofthelinefinally · 22/02/2021 19:35

@StopGo

If you a professional and highly qualified woman is still coping with the majority of the child care and wife work, what chance do women without your privilege have?

This.
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Fridainexile · 22/02/2021 20:01

Self employed mother. It’s EVEN MORE OF a fucking nightmare.

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nevernotstruggling · 22/02/2021 21:28

If men wanted longer paternity leave they would campaign for it and they would have it. The idea we need the state to tell men to share the load is the problem.

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trynnagetsomepeace · 22/02/2021 21:37

@nevernotstruggling

If men wanted longer paternity leave they would campaign for it and they would have it. The idea we need the state to tell men to share the load is the problem.

I couldn't agree more with this post. Until men start stepping up without being told to, women will always be on the backfoot.
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endlesscraziness · 22/02/2021 22:03

My husband completely stepped up and worked from home, did all the home schooling and had dinner waiting for me when I got home. Not all men are useless

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FreiasBathtub · 22/02/2021 23:02

Are people really protected because of childcare responsibilities under the Equality Act? I was not under the impression it was a protected characteristic. I would strongly support making it one in its own right. I think it's really important to recognise this as a problem in its own right, not just a subset of problems for women. Of course at the moment it mostly is, but if we want this to change we need to separate out the bits that should affect both women and men in a fairer world. Once you get part the physicality of pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding, there's no reason why women should be the primary care givers. The law should recognise that some aspects of parenting can only affect women (through existing pregnancy/maternity protections) while others should, in a more equal society, affect both.

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Gerberageri · 22/02/2021 23:19

I think there's been a real lack of support for public sector workers who can't be furloughed and have been doing critical jobs but no school place. It took me nearly a year to be classed as a keyworker, despite working in a critical covid role - because of bureaucracy mostly. Some employers were good at distributing letters, others made them very difficult to obtain and it was down to how much your manager was bothered. It's a problem when you have fewer female managers let alone managers with young children.

Schools closing to wfh keyworkers has been appalling. I have less time than if I worked in an office because I have to look after the kids through the day - so had less time to homeschool than a parent that could work 9-5 and had to make up in hours what was difficult because of lower productivity with the stress and constant interruptions of kids at home.

Even with an understanding employer, when your role is stretched and necessary in a pandemic what gives.

Our school also didn't offer places to vulnerable families.

So I appreciate this is focussed on employment law but the whole message to working families, mothers in particular has been that furlough or reduced hours is the only option and the only place where flexibility is needed in the system. That's not necessarily true for critical roles. How some schools have operated has been more damaging but there is absolutely no accountability there in most cases.

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Seekingjoy · 22/02/2021 23:33

Hi everyone. I just wanted to get others opinion of this. I’m really struggling at the moment with my husband, he’s been doing very little around the home and tends to leave lot stuff to me . Should mention tho he does do the cooking (some will prob think I’m lucky) but there still is a lot left to me and he never offers to help and when I ask for help I feel he can’t be bothered . And for some reason I feel awkward when asking him like I’m really putting him out.
Anyways just trying to give you the picture first before my question.
The other day he put our little 2 year old daughter down for a nap and a couple of hours later when I went to get her she didn’t have a nappy on and he said because there were none left!! I was working from home so wasn’t aware and he was off on leave. So he put her to bed with no nappy on and thank goodness she didn’t have any accidents but it could been lot different! All he had to do was nip round to the shop as I was there anyways and buy a packet of nappies but he’s too lazy to do this .
I’m super annoyed about it and he doesn’t get it . Am I over reacting ?

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felulageller · 23/02/2021 07:08

Seekingjoy- put your post as anew thread on the relationships board.

As to the op, women have been done over by the impact of lockdowns on childcare and employment. But no one seems to be using the F word?? It's very frustrating!

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TaraRhu · 23/02/2021 07:17

@AssassinatedBeauty great point. Until there is incentive and culture change men will never carry the same burden

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KeflavikAirport · 23/02/2021 08:39

I am an academic. There was a thing in the Washington post the other day about how women with children have lost 500 hours of research time compared to childless men. Is there a way of making sure this is not impinge on future career development in results driven fields like mine?

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TaraRhu · 23/02/2021 09:09

Aren't all of these options open to men too?

This article perpetuates the idea that women should take leave/ furlough/ work flexibly. Clearly, there are situations where there is no choice for a mother to step back. However, if a male/female partnership are both at home working then both should take equal responsibility for household and childcare duties. Covid is a great opportunity for workplaces (and some men) to realise that they too have to balance home and work life.

It genuinely saddens me how many women on this site post about fathers who don't pull their weight. There is no excuse for it,

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RomeoLikedCapuletGirls · 23/02/2021 09:19

If men wanted longer paternity leave they would campaign for it and they would have it. The idea we need the state to tell men to share the load is the problem.

100% this. It never occurred time that men should be campaigning for this!

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RomeoLikedCapuletGirls · 23/02/2021 09:23

One of the issues is that men generally earn more so when two parents WFH the priority will be given to the higher earner’s work so the lower earner will be the teacher/childcarer whilst also trying to WFH.

If the lower earner is a man it will probably be more evenly split.

Just in the experience of people I know.

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Munkeenut · 23/02/2021 09:38

@KeflavikAirport

I am an academic. There was a thing in the Washington post the other day about how women with children have lost 500 hours of research time compared to childless men. Is there a way of making sure this is not impinge on future career development in results driven fields like mine?

I'm an academic too, the impact of this will be long lasting on funding and research outputs but my department has done nothing to support women, if anything they just load more on because students are needing more pastoral support (women's work Hmm)
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TaraRhu · 23/02/2021 11:05

@RomeoLikedCapuletGirls

I agree with you about this. There is definitely more inequality when there is a significant difference between incomes.

However, playing devils advocate:

Are men earning more because it isn't culturally acceptable for them to reduce their hours so this almost always fall on the mother. If so shouldn't we be challenging this? Unless you are totally dependent on your partners income or want to stay at home why should having more of an income protect you from helping at home. Careers are about more than money.

I live in a very affluent area but I'm not particularly affluent myself. A lot of my friend have husbands who work in finance. They work crazy hours and bring home mega incomes. However their lives have not changed since having kids. They continue to work 24/7 and play golf at the weekend. All the domestic stuff falls on the mother. Some have nannies etc but many don't. They are frazzled. Many have stepped back from their own careers.

Many of them say they could easily survive on less money but their husbands won't even consider any change to their career. This has to end.

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Fridainexile · 23/02/2021 11:41

@TaraRhu absolutely.
I’ve seen this too.

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nevernotstruggling · 23/02/2021 11:59

*
Many of them say they could easily survive on less money but their husbands won't even consider any change to their career. This has to end.

It would - if they wanted it to.

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Bicnod · 23/02/2021 13:42

@Fridainexile

Self employed mother. It’s EVEN MORE OF a fucking nightmare.

I hear you.

Self-employed mother of three here. I'm one of the self-employed to fall through the gaps of government support as I left employment in December 2019 and went self-employed from January 2020. This was my second stint of being self-employed, previous was for six years. ZERO government support, even though I have been employed or self-employed and paying taxes my entire adult life.

DH works full-time NHS so couldn't take on childcare/homeschooling responsibilities. We needed the money I bring in to pay the mortgage so I had no choice but to work. I charge an hourly rate and if I don't work enough hours I don't get paid enough to service the bills.

I was working and prepping for home schooling (not much provided by our school) evenings and weekends in lockdown one while home schooling during the day. Literally no down time. It nearly broke me.

In my experience lots of working mothers end up going self-employed for the increased flexibility. Again, this is in response to the sexism endemic in our society. DH does a good share of household chores etc. But even within our pretty equal marriage the much discussed 'mental load' always seems to fall to me. I don't know how we change this expectation/reality for ourselves and our children (particularly our daughters).
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marieantoinehairnet · 23/02/2021 14:17

Yes I feel this acutely, my partner has worked through the pandemic out of the house as a frontline key worker, I have worked through at home whilst also assuming the role of caregiver/teacher/galley slave and worker.

It's no good spouting equality/men ought to do their fair share, they quite often can't. My partner had to work out of the home, I had to work in it. I was here so my career suffers.

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