This school year is going to be different – very different.  Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, school districts in the region are still developing their plans which include elements of both remote learning and some in-person learning with restrictions regarding mask-wearing, hygiene, and social distancing.  With parents making up about one-third of the workforce nationally, employers and employees are facing a lot of new challenges as students prepare to resume school.

What are some of the legal requirements that employers should have in mind?

  • The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (“FFCRA”), which was enacted in the spring applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees and provides 80 hours of Emergency Paid Sick Leave (“EPSL”) and up to 12 weeks of Expanded Family and Medical Leave (“EFML”), which can be used if a parent is unable to work or telework because a son or daughter’s elementary or secondary school is closed or their child care provider is unavailable due to coronavirus.
  • If employees or their children become ill with COVID-19, or if they have underlying medical conditions that increase their risk of contracting the disease or suffering complications, other job-protection laws may apply depending upon the facts and circumstances. Such laws could include state paid sick leave laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Employers will need to follow their own policies regarding paid time off and leaves of absence.
  • Employers should be careful not to discriminate against employees because of their family caregiving responsibilities, which could constitute a form of discrimination based on sex.

Employers understand that their people are their most important assets, and have been looking for ways to support working parents in dealing with the complications of this unusual school year.  Beyond the legal requirements noted above, what are some things that employers can do to help working parents?

  • Whenever possible, allow employees to work from home.
  • Be creative when it comes to flexible work schedules. While children are remote learning, parents may find it easier to do most of their work later in the day or in the evening.
  • Consider whether job sharing, or a temporary shift to part-time status will work for the employer and the employee.
  • Try to take employees’ children’s school schedules into account when planning meetings. Parents may need to be available to assist children, especially younger ones, log on to remote learning sessions.  And employees’ home networks can become overtaxed when kids and working parents all try to videoconference at the same time.
  • Consider offering child care subsidies to employees. If you already do, consider whether you can increase them.
  • Your company’s Employee Assistance Program can also be a great resource to help parents easily and confidentially find child care providers and counseling for their children and themselves to help deal with the mental health issues—including anxiety and depression—that many have been facing since the start of the pandemic. Don’t have an EAP?  Consider offering one as an employee benefit.
  • Some companies are looking at offering onsite childcare and “alternative classroom” options. Employers should evaluate this option carefully and seek advice before offering onsite care.
  • Be understanding and compassionate. This has been an incredibly stressful time for parents, and it’s going to continue to be a struggle until school gets somewhat back to “normal” when the pandemic subsides.