As schools across the country settle into a new normal that sees many students learning remotely, working parents are left facing yet another struggle: how to simultaneously perform their job while also supporting their child’s distance learning for what seems to be the foreseeable future.
And unlike back in March, when many businesses shuttered their doors alongside schools, many working parents today are struggling to piece together more long-term solutions that allow them to be present in the office while their child learns outside of the classroom.
As a result of these unique challenges, working parents have been left having to make major adjustments to their work, with some of them leaving the workforce entirely. Fortunately, there are various ways employers can assist employees during these challenging times that will help not only help alleviate employee stress, but also decrease employee turnover, and improve overall engagement.
Communication is Key
Creating open lines of communication is a vital first step in helping employers understand the needs of their workforce.
Candid conversations between management and employees can go a long way in helping employees feel valued and understood, and allows for the employer and employee to create a reasonable solution together that works for both parties.
Now more than ever, employers should also consider creating routine employee listening and action plans, such as employee surveys, to gather feedback and identify solutions and areas of support that will benefit employees the most.
If there is one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it is that flexibility in the workplace is paramount right now. Employees have had to stay home with their kids when childcare suddenly becomes unavailable; care for their parents or family members who have become sick; self-isolate when they or someone in their family has been exposed to the virus; and the list goes on.
At a time when we are all facing unprecedented challenges, employers should consider providing their employees with as much flexibility as possible. For working parents, this may mean that they continue to work from home, or start and/or end their workday earlier or later. Some parents may need to block out certain times of the day to handle childcare demands, while others many need to reduce their hours all together. Considering cases on an individual basis and providing flexible solutions and support can be a significant relief for working parents.
Know the Laws
On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law, providing relief to employees affected by COVID-19. Covering most employers with less than 500 employees, the FFCRA provides, amongst other types of leave, up to 12 weeks of job-protected, expanded FMLA leave to employees who are unable to work due to school and/or childcare closures. (For a complete list of qualified leave options under the FFCRA, click here.)
Covered employees are required to comply with the FFCRA. However, expanded FMLA leave may be taken on an intermittent basis, which provides employers with various options so that the employee is still able to perform all or some of their job functions.
Recently, the Department of Labor provided further guidance around the FFCRA regulations that help clarify employer responsibilities and employee rights. (View the DOL’s recently updated Q&A section for further information. For information pertaining to school closures, view questions 67-71).
For those businesses where flexible schedules and work arrangements are not possible, or for those not covered by the FFCRA, employers can still provide other forms of assistance to working parents.
Some employers may choose to provide a childcare stipend, helping to cover part of the cost of childcare so employees can work productively either in the office or at home. Other employers may choose to provide additional personal leave days to employees, or build childcare costs into their FSA programs.
Employers should consider taking the time to reevaluate existing benefits to determine where opportunities exist to create additional relief for employees.
Be Mindful of Employee Equity
Employers may find that issues of employee equity are more prevalent now than ever before. Working non-parents may find it unfair that their colleagues are able to adjust their schedules as needed or receive benefits that they’re not entitled to. They may also feel the burden of having to take on extra job responsibilities from their colleagues who are also parents. When creating solutions to meet today’s challenging demands, employers should remember to consider non-parents as well and extend support and flexibility to all employees, when possible.
For more information about employer responsibilities and employee rights during COVID-19, contact the PROXUS HR team at 610-614-5500 or visit our COVID-19 Employer Resources section.