With fall just around the corner, and schools making last-minute decisions about how the coming school year will look, you should consider how to handle concerns from employees who may be juggling at-home childcare and school responsibilities with their work obligations. Some schools have announced they will operate entirely remotely when the school year begins. Others are contemplating a combined in-person and remote schooling approach, such as having kids physically attend school two days per week and engage in remote learning for the remainder of the week. As a result, parents may need leave on the remote learning days.
Potential need for intermittent leave: As we previously reported, for employers with fewer than 500 employees, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave for employees who are caring for their children whose school or place of care has closed because of COVID-19. The FFCRA regulations and FAQs from the Department of Labor indicate employees don’t have the right to take such leave intermittently, although they encourage employers to voluntarily allow it. As we reported separately in this newsletter, a federal judge has ruled the DOL is wrong, and employees actually have the right to intermittent FFCRA leave for school closures. Until the legal dispute is resolved, the safest approach will be to allow employees to take intermittent or reduced schedule FFCRA leave for intermittent school closure situations.
Start planning now: Nearly all employers will have workers who are impacted by their school district’s decisions, regardless of availability of leave under the FFCRA. You should begin discussions now about how you’ll respond to employee needs. Consider reaching out to employees who have school-age children to ask for their ideas on how you can support them, and base your decisions on employee input. Don’t limit your discussions to the moms in your workplace; be sure to talk with the dads too.
Evaluate available leave and alternative options: In evaluating a leave request from an employee related to their child’s schooling, first determine whether the employee has FFCRA leave available, or whether there are other state or local leaves available. (For example, the Oregon Family Leave Act’s “sick child leave” has been temporarily expanded to cover situations where a child’s school is closed for public health reasons). Consider alternative arrangements such as work from home, flexible schedules, reduced hours, or even a workshare option where one employee works half the shift and another employee works the other half. If you have a significant number of employees with school-age children, would it be possible for you to provide child care or tutoring of similarly aged kids so that parents can focus on work?
Aim for creative solutions: Employers and parent-employees are caught in a no-win situation. Some workers will have to make decisions about whether to send their kids to school, and some workers won’t have an option, but none of the choices are great. The stress of juggling school and work responsibilities can be overwhelming. As an employer, you need the work to get done, yet you don’t want to lose valuable trained employees. These difficult times will require some creativity and flexibility from employers and workers alike. As always, your Vigilant Law Group attorney is available to discuss options with you based on your particular circumstances.