“In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.” That was the headline of a New York Times opinion piece published July 2, 2020, and it echoes the sentiment felt by working parents everywhere who have had to weather the pandemic by working from home while simultaneously caring for their children. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62% of married-couple families with children have both parents employed, and the employment rate for single parents is even higher.
How, then, is your company going to respond when school starts this fall and many students will be relying on their working parents (read: your employees) to support them in a virtual learning environment?
Whether you’ve heard from them or not, this question and the uncertainty working parents are facing as the pandemic wears on are both real and stressful.
“Employees are very stressed over this particular issue,” says Michelle Thompson, vice president of human resources for XMI. “They don’t know what their employer’s position is, and the start of the school year is quickly approaching. You might not yet know the specifics of how you’re going to support them, but you can communicate your concern and let them know that you’re going to work with them as much as you possibly can. ‘We’re here for you and we’re going to figure this out,’ can calm a lot of fears.”
Companies have multiple options at their disposal to help accommodate working parents with school-aged children who will be learning from home. The first and best option for most workers and companies is the altered work schedule.
“This is where we would consider most companies to start because it’s beneficial to everyone involved,” she says. “The employee continues to be paid and the employer doesn’t miss out on productivity.”
Intermittent leave is another option. Created by the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) to temporarily expand FMLA to employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees (typically, FMLA only applies to companies with 50 or more employees), the intermittent leave rule provides up to 10 weeks of paid leave (at 2/3 of regular rate), which can be taken in partial-day increments, to care for a child due to school or daycare closures. In order to be eligible, workers must be employed by their employers for at least 30 calendar days. The FFCRA also provides up to two weeks of emergency paid sick leave to employees who must care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed due to the pandemic. This pay rate is equal to the employee’s regular rate of pay.
In exchange for paying employees who take intermittent leave, the government is providing tax credits to enable “employers to keep their workers on their payrolls, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus,” explains the Department of Labor.
The credit is capped at $12,000 per employee using both types of available leave.
Because there are tax credits at stake, recordkeeping is especially important, says Christi Clawson, director of payroll at XMI.
“It might be just an hour a day, but that can slowly accumulate into a substantial amount,” she says. “Keeping track of every hour and coding those hours correctly will help ensure you can recoup as much of the cost of that leave as possible.”
Clawson also recommends using special and separate payroll codes for the different types of FFCRA emergency leave.
“Having specific pay codes for these and not just using the traditional FMLA code is very important,” she says. “Down the line there could be an audit and you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that’s what this time was for.”
As you develop plans for helping your employees navigate pandemic-related challenges, Thompson says communication and flexibility are key.
“What works for one employee might not work for another,” she says. “You need to be fair and consistent, but you also need to be flexible and tuned into individual employees’ needs.”