As I begin this article, the school district where I live is expected to announce their recommendation that school be conducted completely online this fall.  As a parent, this gives me anxiety.  As an HR professional, this gives me anxiety.  How are we going to support our employees, as parents?

Here are some statistics to consider:

  • One in five working parents said that either they or their partner are considering leaving the workforce to care for their children.
  • More than 50% of families will lose money or income by having a parent or family member stay at home with their children during the crisis.
  • Women are disproportionately more likely to work in industries at risk of virus-related layoffs. Women make up 47% of the U.S. labor force and yet 51% of “high risk” industries.
  • Full-time working mothers in two-parent households are, on average, doing around 22 hours of childcare a week in addition to their jobs.

The government passed some legislation in April 2020, to help working parents. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) mandates employers with less than 500 employees provide two kinds of paid leave:

  1.  Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) – gives up to 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid leave for parents who must stay home with their children because of school/day care closures due to COVID-19. This leave is also available for other COVID-related reasons.
  2. Expanded Family Medical Leave Act (eFMLA) – gives up to an additional 10 weeks leave for parents who must stay home with their children because of school/day care closures due to COVID-19.

These leave provisions are helpful, but not a long-term solution for either the company or the parent. Twelve weeks goes by fast, and for some smaller businesses, they may not be able to afford to have people out on leave and new people doing the jobs for those who are out. This is a difficult and emotionally charged situation.

Companies will need to do what is best for their business. They may not be able to support employees who are parents if the jobs require their presence at a physical location.  A cook, cashier, or retail worker cannot work from home. Some companies may want to look into job placement programs for those workers who they cannot assist.

As we begin to outline some solutions, take a moment to remember that we are all affected by this pandemic.  Parents want their kids in school.  Parents want their kids to be safe.  Parents want to do their jobs. Companies want their employees safe, employed, and productive.  We must be conscious of the fact that we truly are in this together.  We need to be flexible and open minded to solutions that keep people working and businesses open.

That said, here are some ideas:

  • Work from home.  Where possible, allow your employees to work from home.  Be clear on the hours they are expected to be available.  While traditional teleworking is not meant to also be a babysitting solution, we are in a pandemic.  If your employee can get the work done with occasional breaks to teach their kids, that’s a win.  Again, expectations must be clearly defined to avoid unpleasant situations. Allow flexible working hours whenever possible.
  • Job share. Let’s say you have 2 employees who all have school age kids. Are they willing to start a co-op of some kind, where they not only take turns doing each other’s jobs, but also help with watching each other’s kids? For example, Employee A works Monday-Friday, 8am -noon.  Employee B has their kids, and his own, during this time. Employee B works Monday – Friday, 1pm-5pm. Job gets done, kids are cared for.
  • Bring your kid to work. This, of course, depends on the environment and safety of the workplace.
  • Create a “day care” at the company by hiring a babysitter to watch everyone’s kids. This option may require some extras, like insurance and a larger room, but may be a viable option. 
  • Create an expense reimbursement program to pay for caregivers inside the home so your employee can continue to come to work.
  • Talk to your employees about creating a co-op, where they can share a babysitter.
  • Flexible hours / schedules.  Maybe your employee has help in the morning, but not the afternoon.  Can they adjust their hours to work in the mornings?  Maybe they have help on the weekends or in the evenings. Can the employee work during those times?  If the job can be done anywhere at any time, consider a flexible schedule.
  • eFMLA – can be used all at once (10 weeks) or intermittently to care for their child/children when they are unable to work or telework.
  • EPSL – can be used to cover the first 2 weeks of leave for an employee whose normal child care provider or school is closed or unavailable due to COVID.

While it may be a hard truth that some people may have to leave their jobs, we must still do our best to accommodate our working parents to the best of our ability. Don’t be afraid to think big. As HR professionals, there has never been a better time to get creative and come up with some solutions for those employees who must also now be teachers.

Need some guidance or want to discuss options? Join us on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 at 9am for a webinar on managing the struggles of going back to school (whatever that may look like in your area).