Before the Pandemic hit, most employers did not consider it their business to inquire about how their working parents were juggling work, their children’s school and childcare. In fact, to ask just the female population of workers about childcare could be considered discriminatory.
Still employing working parents have significantly influenced employers, especially in their ability to retain top talent. Many employers had already been implementing family-friendly policies, flexible work arrangements and greater pools of time off.
Then COVID-19 hit. A combination of staying in place and closed schools caused many working parents to suddenly work remotely alongside their kids, who were asked to attend remote school programs.
As a response, most employers became even more flexible and reasonable. NYS issued COVID-19 Leave and the Federal government responded with the Families First Corona Response Act (FFCRA). Two of the six criteria under FFCRA outlined qualifying reasons for leave related to childcare.
Employers covered under the act need to provide a total of 12 weeks of partially paid leave to employees whose children’s day care or school has closed due to COVID-19. Due to a wide variety of circumstances, companies had to quickly understand the complexities of FFCRA, such as who is eligible and allowing intermittent leave. Employers relied heavily on their human resources departments for guidance. We pity the employers with little or weak human resources departments.
Since many public and private schools locally will be limited to virtual or hybrid classroom learning in the fall, we expect September and October to be crazy months for employers when it comes to their staff’s schedules, qualifying leave, and school situations.
To make matters even more complicated, the Department of Labor (DOL) has challenged employers in court cases where employees were either denied leave requests or fired. Lawsuits claim employees were fired because they couldn’t keep to their expected work schedules while caring for young children at home. DOL has published guidance for employers to be more flexible with approving FFCRA. Data is showing employees are actually working longer hours from home. DOL is also warning employers to establish better ways to collect all hours worked. How do you know if an employee is working and when they are not?
Although many employers are adjusting their expectations for working parents, others may not be. Employers, who don’t accommodate working parents, could face many negative consequences, including legal action against them. An employer could be subject to penalties and damages for unpaid wages and attorney fees and costs, as well as be required to reinstate the employee.
We have always cautioned employers -They will not be measured during times of plenty and profitability but rather be measured on how they dealt with times of uncertainly and stress. During this most stressful time, employers who are inflexible and unaccommodating towards working parents may find their actions affecting their ability to attract and retain top talent.
The HR department should work with managers to develop a remote-work policy for all employees. The policy should outline expectations and flexibility guidelines, which includes the criteria on which employees can work from home and who is required to come into workplace. The policy will state what hours they are expected to work and sets a schedule for virtual meetings. It is important that remote workers be treated the same as if they were working in the office. Moreover, the policy needs to be communicated to all employees with as much notice as possible. With school starting, now is the time.
Employers should consider having the policy reviewed by a labor attorney to make sure it is compliant with local, state and federal laws. Someone has to keep up and follow the DOL court cases so they can adjust accordingly.
Since there is no end in sight to the COVID-19 restrictions, now is the time for employers to look to their HR department or look to assist department with HR responsibilities. HR should respond by putting together solutions to help ease the burden for working parents. Employees should have a trusted company contact (HR) to discuss scheduling issues and expectations versus availability. HR has the responsibility to ensure working parents have everything they need to stay productive.
Employers still need to balance the needs of their business and the needs of their working parents. Leading with empathy and clarity goes a long way in getting both needs met and they will be remembered when attracting and retaining top talent.