The modern workplace as we knew it is likely gone forever. COVID-19 has turned many industries and their respective workplaces upside down. For most office and administrative positions, employees are now working remotely – and there’s a chance they’ll never return to the office full-time.
Schools have been equally affected; the majority of public and private schools have sent students home to learn remotely at least part-time.
These two trends create quite the challenge for working parents. They must balance their daily work schedules, which likely include several virtual meetings and many other responsibilities, with the schedules of their children who are now home part—or all—of the day.
As an employer, you’re still trying to get the most out of your employees with children at home. However, it’s clear that the balancing act they are attempting is no easy task.
In this post, we’ll outline some strategies that employers can implement to support their staff with children during this challenging time.
Specifically, we’ll recommend that you:
- Be aware of all your support options
- Be flexible
- Consider long-term outcomes
- Be cautious
Be Aware of All Your Support Options
There are most likely certain laws and other processes that are already established that you can implement to support your employees with children.
First, consider supporting your employees by contributing to their child care costs. The Internal Revenue Service allows companies to claim a tax break of 10 or 25 percent of child care costs for their employees (up to $150,000/year – click here to learn more about this credit). This obviously might not apply to every employee, as some parents understandably want to avoid sending their children to a daycare provider during COVID. However, there are still many parents in the workforce who would be willing to consider daycare options if their employers help cover some of the costs. Consider setting up a meeting with your employees and HR leadership to discuss if this is a realistic way for your company to help your employees.
Second, be sure you understand all the benefits options that you are already offering to your employees. If you have an employee assistance program, identify the services therein that would be most beneficial to your employees at this time. Work with HR to send out a reminder to all of your employees about those services. For example, perhaps your employee assistance program offers free sessions with counselors or time-management coaches for your employees. If you aren’t up to speed on everything that’s offered under your employee assistance program, schedule a meeting with HR so they can help you become better acquainted with it. Then, pass on that knowledge to your employees who need it the most – in this case the employees with children at home.
COVID-19 has most likely created many challenges for your business. Understandably, your mind is probably racing about how you can improve inefficiencies and reduce costs in order to increase profitability. However, don’t let this mindset keep you from being flexible with your employees that have children at home.
Raising children takes time. With parents and their children primarily constrained to the house during regular daytime hours, the time commitment required to keep those kids fed, dressed, and focus on their schoolwork increases significantly.
You must understand that your employees with children will experience interruptions during the workday – there’s no way to avoid it. Penalizing your employees for these interruptions will backfire.
Instead, show empathy towards them and their situations by being as flexible as possible. Perhaps the 8:30 AM Zoom call will need to be pushed to 9:00 AM. And when it’s time for that meeting, forgive the background noise that might be sneaking through their microphone.
Work hand-in-hand with your employees to determine the areas that they’ll need the most flexibility, and try to determine if there are any particular times of day that are difficult for them to stay 100% focused on work (for example, lunch time with the kids, or early-morning when setting up their child’s remote learning station).
Consider Long-Term Outcomes
Employers have been faced with many difficult decisions in 2020. As is the case with any decision in the business world, you must weigh the anticipated costs and benefits of your decisions. As you consider ways that you can support your employees with children during the pandemic, you must also weigh the costs and benefits of those decisions.
Contributing towards child care costs or ramping up your employee assistance program (as we’ve discussed in previous sections) are expensive strategies to pursue. However, take a moment to consider what the long-term outcomes of these decisions might be.
The pandemic will end eventually. The economy will improve, and there will be opportunities for your business to get back on track. When this time comes, would you rather have employees who are satisfied with how they were treated during COVID, or would you rather have employees who felt they weren’t properly taken care of and supported?
When the pandemic ends, having motivated, happy, loyal employees will likely be your most valuable asset.
The last topic we’ll discuss in this post is the need to be cautious. Already, companies have been sued by employees who are unhappy about their employers’ accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment law experts expect this trend to continue, unfortunately.
Work with your legal counsel to ensure full compliance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). This act requires, “certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to covid-19.” Learn more about the FFCRA by clicking here.
As you make decisions related to approving or denying FFCRA leave for your employees, don’t forget to consider how your decisions will either increase or decrease the risk of facing lawsuits or government fines. As we spoke about in the previous section, don’t be afraid to make sacrifices in the short term to protect yourself and your business in the long term. For example, if you aren’t sure whether to approve or deny an employee’s FFCRA leave request, it may be better to err on the side of caution and approve the leave so that you reduce the risk of potential lawsuits.
Employees who have children at home during the pandemic are facing significant challenges. Balancing daily work schedules with the schedules of their children is not an easy task, and there will certainly be scheduling conflicts that affect their work to some degree.
Employers should be empathetic of the circumstances of their employees with children at home.
Some strategies that employers can implement include:
- Being aware of tax breaks and employment benefits that are in place that benefit both the employer and the employees.
- Being as flexible as possible with employees
- Keeping a long term perspective, as the pandemic will end someday and having happy employees will be a very valuable resource at that time
Of course, employers should also be aware of FFCRA regulations and regularly consult their legal counsel about leave decisions during the pandemic.