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Back to school impact on small businesses and working parents

Now that we know nearly all schools are implementing remote learning, working parents everywhere are wondering what the heck to do and are overwhelmed. Guaranteed. As if COVID and quarantining were not enough, now any employees with school age children are certainly panicking.

Small businesses should look at this from two different perspectives. First, as an employer you have legal obligations under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Second, this is an opportunity for open dialogue as well as an opportunity to promote understanding and employee engagement.

The compliance requirements to be aware of are the employer’s obligation and the employees’ rights under the Expanded Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA) within the FFCRA. The EFMLA portion of the FFCRA provides up to 12 weeks of job protected leave (with up to 10 weeks of paid) to eligible if an employee is unable to work or telework because of a lack of viable childcare. One item of note here is if the school provides an onsite or virtual option and the parent chooses the virtual option, they may not be eligible for leave. It is important to assess each situation with a trusted HR or Attorney resource on who is eligible, how long are they eligible for and what documentation and forms are necessary. See our previous post about the EFMLA and FFCRA ruling here.

As is always the case, be cognizant of your legal requirement to not discriminate in any way. This is a unique circumstance in which employees are going to be sharing personal information with their employer that they may not have wanted to share otherwise. Companies will now know who has children, what their childcare arrangements are, whom in their household will be responsible for shouldering the childcare / homeschooling responsibilities. With this information, be cautious about making assumptions as to which of your employees may be at greater risk of exposure based on their childcare arrangements. All this information opens a door that could lead to, albeit unintentional or unknowing, discrimination.

Finally, FFCRA (Family First Coronavirus Response Act) Notices must be prominently posted either in the physical workplace, posted on a company portal or intranet or emailed to each employee. That poster can be found here.

Outside of the legal or regulatory obligations, consider the people. This is where communication truly is the key. For those who have the capacity, conduct one on one, personalized conversations to really see what the employee may need as far as support and what the company can do to provide that support.

As a company, if you have not already assessed your working arrangements through COVID, you will need to do that now and will most likely need to continuously reevaluate working arrangements.

When discussing options with working parents, consider offering flexible working hours or move to shift work if possible. Just because the workday has historically been 8am-5pm, that doesn’t mean it always has to be that way. Employees may prefer working 4, separate 2 hours blocks throughout the full day and may be more productive in the evening. If employees are coming into the office, consider staggering in office time. For those who can work remote, allow for this.

Be cognizant of when employees’ childcare / homeschool needs may peak throughout the day. Encourage your employees to black out times on their shared calendars to allow for this. Allow for breaks in schedules to transport kids, etc.

If financially feasible, consider offering lifestyle benefits through resources like Fringe at https://www.hellofringe.co/ or other options that offer assistance associated with identifying childcare or household support. Something like this is much more impactful than a company branded mug.

Accept the fact that Zoom meetings may have background noise. Everyone is juggling a lot right now and it is a guarantee that the employee with the child yelling for a snack in the background would rather that not be the case as much as you do.

Most importantly, be sure to check in with employees, even if it is not work related. If you notice someone’s emails are starting to become a little lack luster or their performance be slipping, check in. It may be a quick fix or moral boost that is needed. Create the opportunity for them to talk and just listen to them.

We will all get through this together. As a fellow small business, Employers Advantage LLC is here for support to work together to figure out the best path forward for everyone.

- Shannon

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