While many schools and day care centers will remain closed this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some employers are uncertain of how to manage employees who lack adequate child care.
About 700 companies named child care as one of the biggest hurdles when asking employees to return to work during the pandemic, according to a survey by Gallup. Researchers also found that lack of access to child care takes a toll on employee productivity.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act attempted to address the issue by requiring employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave if the employee must care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed for reasons related to COVID-19.
Now that most schools will remain closed longer than expected, many businesses are unsure of their options for employees or the legal implications that accompany them.
Employers should start thinking now of alternate work accommodations for employees who may have exhausted all their FFCRA leave last spring. Additionally, small employers seeking a self-exemption from the FFCRA mandate should consider offering accommodations.
Create a workforce strategy
Due to FFCRA limitations, employers should assess their workforce and determine which employees will be affected by school closures and what types of flexible working arrangements may work for them. Employers can expect an array of circumstances that could lead to sudden and overlapping absences.
In addition to refreshing absence policies, employers can consider the following suggestions:
- Alternate or intermittent shifts or hours, by mutual agreement
- A reduced schedule
- The ability to work remotely
- Unpaid leave
Employers are not legally required to provide unpaid personal leave. If an employer decides to provide unpaid leave, they are advised to document the requirements or restrictions in their employee policy and apply it consistently to all employees for fairness and to avoid allegations of discrimination.
As needs change throughout the pandemic, there should be an ongoing dialogue between employers and employees about what accommodations work best in order to set expectations around availability. Employers can also help by sharing information about free child care referrals with employees.
Alternative unemployment options
Some companies have allowed employees to voluntarily go on furlough to receive unemployment benefits while on leave to care for their children, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Employees can apply for unemployment insurance benefits online and eligibility will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
If an employer has temporarily allowed any employees to work a reduced schedule due to child care reasons, those individuals could be eligible for reduced unemployment benefits. Eligibility will be based on the employee’s weekly earnings in addition to other eligibility requirements.
If an employee leaves the company, the EDD is required by law to determine if the employee had “good cause” for doing so before determining potential eligibility for UI benefits. Anyone seeking unemployment benefits is typically required to remain able and available to work in order to be eligible, but a person could qualify for benefits if there are no other options for child care available.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance may also be available to someone who is not eligible for regular UI benefits but is not able to work due to lack of child care for reasons related to COVID-19.
It is uncertain if the FFCRA’s leave provisions will be extended. Employers should work to put a long-term contingency plan in place and outline specific policies. Due to the complex nature of the federal statutes and their interaction with state and local laws, employers are advised to seek legal counsel for leave-related questions.
Find resources on practice management and patient care in CDA’s Back to Practice center.