While all of us hoped that COVID-19’s impact on our lives would be winding down by now, it’s clear that the viral groundhog saw his shadow and we have a long winter ahead. In addition to all the restrictions and burdens that society was previously dealing with, we now have the added confusion of work-from-home and distance learning happening at the same time in the same place. This blog post will be a brief clarification of how the existing rules apply to distance learning.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed to help workers affected by COVID-19. This includes two weeks of paid leave for several reasons relating to the pandemic. It also provided expanded paid leave (at two-thirds normal pay) of up to ten additional weeks for parents who are unable to work because they are caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or childcare provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19. The leave for childcare is especially relevant now that the school year has returned and schools are making the decision to allow or not-allow children to attend, but the applications of the FFCRA aren’t always obvious.
Below are some practical examples of how “school is closed” is interpreted:
- If a child has the option to attend school but the parent would prefer that child stay home, their school is not “closed” so the parent is ineligible for the expanded leave.
- If a child’s school uses a “hybrid” model, the parent is eligible for the days in which the child is forced to learn from home.
- If a parent chooses to keep their child home and is initially ineligible for the expanded leave, but the school then closes, the parent becomes eligible for the leave.
- If a school closes but then reopens, parents who were eligible become ineligible.
- If a school closes but childcare is available or a parent can work or telework, the parent is ineligible.
While the limits of the expanded leave are rather narrow, there are a few things that employers should keep in mind when working with employees that have children who may be distance learning. First, if employees want to use the time, it’s more advantageous to let them use it when business is still slow compared to when business may be ramping up.
Second, be flexible. An easy solution might be letting parents work before or after school starts or putting in some hours on the weekend. While it might be more convenient to have everybody on the same schedule, small concessions on your part might turn into a worthwhile investment when you need their understanding and flexibility in return. The pandemic is going to separate good employers from bad. When you want the best candidates in the coming labor shuffle, being able to point to how you handled the Coronavirus may put you over your competitors.
Third, while you may get an itch about an employee who appears to be taking advantage of the FFCRA, you should consider if it’s a fight worth having. Ultimately, the pay from the FFCRA is reimbursed by the federal government but legal fees may not be. It’s easy to win the battle and realize staying at home would have been a better use of time while spending less money.
As always, if you need any help applying HR regulations or managing your human resources strategically, feel free to contact Terch & Associates!