Last month, during a zoom staff meeting with one of my clients, several employees expressed concerns about their ability to juggle their office work while kids are learning at home. This is a conversation happening in many workplaces across the country. How can we accommodate the childcare needs of employees when schools are online or have a hybrid learning model?
According to the Bureau Of Labor & Statistics (BLS), 36% of workers are parents of school-age children. According to Pew Research, working mothers still carry the bulk of childcare responsibilities. There is a real threat that many women will drop out of the workforce as they feel overwhelmed by the new landscape of working from home while schooling children.
Today I want to highlight some of the legal and practical options to support working parents.
The Legal Framework
Laws impacting employees experiencing childcare and school issues:
1) Emergency Paid Sick leave and emergency FMLA (eFMLA) enacted under the FFCRA in March 2020 provide coverage for COVID childcare-related issues. These laws were moved as a temporary stop-gap measure and are supposed to expire on December 31. However, there are efforts in Congress to expand the law as the pandemic drags on.
Noteworthy aspects of FFCRA:
- Healthcare providers may no longer benefit from a blanket exempt from FFCRA leave following a Federal Court decision in New York in early August.
- Workers are eligible for FFCRA leave if they are unavailable to work or telework and the school building is closed and learning is 100% online. Hybrid school weeks will probably be eligible for eFMLA.
- The DOL just clarified that parents are not eligible for eFMLA if they choose an online school option when schools have re-opened 100% in-person.
- Leave can be taken intermittently when children spend part of the week in the classroom and part in online (hybrid learning).
2) More states and localities have passed local paid sick leave laws in recent years. Those provisions might offer provisions for emergency situations with time off from work. They should be considered when looking at accommodation for working parents.
3) Traditional FMLA (for organizations with at least 50 employees) offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to parents of children with serious health conditions. If a healthcare provider certifies that a child cannot attend in-person school during the pandemic, parents might qualify for FMLA to care for the child doing online school. Remember FMLA can be taken in blocks of time or intermittently.
The Way Forward – Dialogue With Employees
Listening and talking to employees about their individual needs is always a good way to proceed and find solutions. Ask employees how they would like to handle their job given their parenting responsibilities.
There is no easy answer to address the current challenges. Employers need to be creative, be willing to try new solutions, and change course when necessary. Since March, most workplaces have shown an unprecedented level of flexibility. Although we might wish for “things to return to normal”, it’s unlikely to happen. Some argue it might not be desirable.
Possible solutions to working from home when kids are home schooled:
- Allow all employees, not just working parents, to keep their remote work arrangements if they wish to do so. Plan for a periodic review of these arrangements. Decide whether this is a permanent change or an adaption to the pandemic.
- Provide flexible schedules even when working from home. Allow workers to get their work done early morning and late at night after the school day is over. Rethink the need for meetings in the middle of the day.
- Enhance flexibility for those who cannot work remotely by providing day on/day off.
- Expand onsite childcare and tutoring services. Finding community partners is probably the way to go for most small businesses.
- Create a forum or resource board to facilitate shared childcare and tutoring from young adults.
- Modify employee status from full-time to part-time and keep employees accountable for getting their work done.
- Suggest parents rotate working and parenting in two-parent households.
- Consider a new assignment if a different role might be more amenable to flexible and remote work.
The Bottom Line
Whatever the arrangements with employees, put them in writing and emphasize the temporary nature of the arrangements.
Schedule a formal review of those arrangements within the first six weeks (or sooner). Be willing to adjust.
If the flexible work arrangements are set to continue for many months, schedule a periodic review. Every three months is probably a good frequency.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is a compilation of information gathered through authoritative sources but doesn’t constitute legal advice. I am an HR pro, not an attorney! This is based on the best information available as of September 7, 2020.