The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many employees due to evolving expectations, increased stress, and constant changes in the workplace. For working parents, these challenges may be particularly difficult. The demands of work are now intertwined with their roles as caretaker to their children, some even taking on the role of amateur school teacher as well.
Schools across the United States have canceled in-person classes to help control the spread of the virus. While some states were considering opening schools in the Fall, the recent increase in COVID-19 cases could cause states to shut down once again. If this happens, child care will continue to be an issue and impact the ability for many working parents to return to work.
While everyone is eager to get back to a pre-covid feeling of normalcy, it is possible that stay-at-home orders and public health related restrictions could continue well into the year. Governor Gavin Newsom of California warned that the sharp increase in the number of people hospitalized with problems related to COVID-19 could lead to stay-at-home orders once again. Currently, Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered bars be re-closed in seven California counties due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, foreshadowing the possible closure of more businesses if cases continue to rise. With the uncertainty of the future, working parents must prepare to continue balancing work and home life more than ever before.
It continues to remain unclear for parents if schools, camps, and daycares will open, and if so, in what capacity. There is no easy answer on the horizon for parents, or the companies that employ them, on how to navigate this unprecedented time. As employers, it is important to support working parents that are now working, teaching, and parenting at the same time.
Read on for tips on how employers can support working parents as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to blur the lines between work life and personal life for many employees.
Maintain Flexible Work Arrangements
With prolonged uncertainty for parents and employers, and childcare shortages continuing to complicate returning to work, it is important that employers maintain their support and offer flexibility to their workers. Providing flexible work schedules or arrangements may continue to be the norm as employers navigate the rest of the year amid the coronavirus pandemic. There are a few easy ways to create flexibility in your workplace that help ease the burden of working parents and promote work-life balance for your employees.
- Flextime: Providing flexible work schedules allows employees to customize their schedules within a certain range of hours and days. As an employer, you can still set certain hours or days and limit flextime to certain situations or job responsibilities. Regardless, working mothers and fathers can still have more freedom to coordinate childcare, come in early or leave early to pick up their children, go to doctors appointments, or any other parental duties that may need extra time and flexibility to attend to.
- Make-Up Time: Creating a make-up time policy allows employees to take time off and then make it up later in the same workweek, without the obligation for the employer to pay overtime. This allows employees to have flexibility to attend to personal needs, without having to use their paid time off benefits or lose hours. However, while make-up time does create greater flexibility, organizations that decide to allow make-up time must comply with some wage and hour regulations.
- Telecommuting: Telecommuting, also known as telework or remote work, has become a popular solution for helping working parents attend to all their responsibilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Telework is best suited for jobs that require independent work and little face-to-face interaction so it might not be feasible for every role or organization. While it is important for managers to set expectations for employees working remotely, they must still consider the multiple roles working parents are juggling. Expectations must remain realistic and account for the fact that some employees may be taking on the responsibility of caretaker and teacher for their children in addition to their work. Managers must remember to check in with their employees often to understand their daily needs and challenges.
Inform Working Parents of Their Benefits
In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Labor created the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or ACT). Which requires employers with 500 employees or less to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions will continue through December 31, 2020. Remind employees that they may be able to receive:
- Up to 80 hours of paid sick leave if they are unable to work due to being quarantined by a health professional and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
- Up to 80 hours of paid sick leave if they are unable to work due to caring for an individual subject to quarantine or to care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19; and
- Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave if they are unable to work due caring for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
Beyond time-off benefits, there are other ways employers can help support working parents. If your organization provides health insurance, remind employees that throughout the duration of the pandemic, all forms of public and private insurance must now cover FDA-approved COVID-19 tests and costs associated with testing. This means if any employees or their family members experience symptoms of COVID-19 they will be able to receive the test at no cost.
Employers with employee assistance programs (EAP) can also direct their employees to utilize that resource. Employees may feel anxious, confused, or stressed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, or have children that need help coping with anxiety and fear. Most EAP programs offer counseling services that address these issues and are generally offered to employees and their family members at no cost. Even if your organization does not have an EAP program, you can still provide employees with information from reliable sources on psychosocial services and give them tools on how to help themselves and their children.
Reacting with Empathy
Offering support and understanding to your employees who are working parents is a small way you can make a difference in their day. Working parents may be struggling to wrangle toddlers or help with homework in between meetings and daily work demands. Simply acknowledging the struggle of working parents, and taking time to listen, can help parents feel heard and supported.
It is important to understand that the world for working parents is demanding right now. Taking the time as an employer or manager to understand what your employees at-home schedule and demands will allow you to work together to readjust priorities and manage expectations. The more supportive you are as an employer, the more productive your employees output will be.
Continue to Ease the Burden
With the resurgence of COVID-19 cases, it is important as employers to maintain flexibility, patience, and empathy for your employees especially as working parents struggle to balance the demands of the workplace and home life more than ever before. The future is unpredictable, and the time is unprecedented. This is your opportunity as an employer to be a role model in supporting working parents and lead by example. We are all in this together and supporting working parents will help them continue to remain resilient as the pandemic presents new challenges for workplaces and families alike.