Employers can best support working parents during the pandemic by loosening restrictions around paid leave and being as flexible as possible with work hours, benefits professionals say.
With full-time schooling unlikely while the Covid-19 outbreak rages on, employees with kids will likely have to juggle work demands and round-the-clock parenting for the foreseeable future.
Many employees have access to two weeks of paid leave for child care woven into the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), a benefit that will go away at the end of the public health emergency. They also can use assorted time off already offered by their employers.
Employers can help their workers by rerouting all their paid time off into a multipurpose account, “allowing employees to take time off as they need it, no matter the reason.” Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, said.
Other quick fixes include adopting a shortened workweek, like four 10-hour days, or allowing staff to fully set their own hours “either consistently or on an ad hoc basis,” she said.
“While this flexibility may not always be possible depending on the job or workload, it might be possible on occasion, relieving at least some stress,” Stich told Bloomberg Law.
Employers who bring back furloughed workers also are required to honor any paid-leave benefits they accrued prior to the employment separation.
“Managers have to be compassionate and understanding for this to work,” Tami Simon, corporate consulting leader at HR firm Segal’s Washington office, said.
Katrina Smith, national practice leader at The Standard life insurance company, polled 300 employers about existing care-giving policies in conjunction with trade group the Disability Management Employer Coalition.
Four out of five respondents (80%) said their company offers parental leave for births/new arrivals to the family. Three out of four (76%) said sick time is available for tending to oneself or loved ones.
And three out of five (61%) said family leave, which can be paid or unpaid, is an option when dealing with domestic issues. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to give 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave to workers for family and medical reasons, but it doesn’t encompass domestic situations such as virus-driven home schooling.
Employers aren’t required to pay their workers for FMLA leave, but many opt to do so through existing paid leave options.
Some companies provide additional assistance by allowing remote working (88%), flexible scheduling (72%), and splitting up a regular workload into part-time positions via job sharing arrangements (16%), according to Smith. Some have waded into work-sponsored day-care (48%)—or did before social distancing—while one in four (23%) chipped in for back-up babysitting services.
Simon said some companies have added 10 to 20 days of time off during the pandemic. Others, she said, are creating new care-giving leave to defuse mounting pressures.
“We’ve spoken to many employers who are reconsidering their paid-time-off policies,” she said.
Barring further changes in the law, she advised time-crunched workers to exhaust all available FFCRA leave first, then move on to work-sponsored paid leave, and finally family leave.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to raising kids while in lockdown.
“Everybody is doing the best they can,” Simon said.