Have you updated your job descriptions lately? Do your working parents’ job descriptions include the essential functions of creating lesson plans, teaching algebra, cooking three healthy meals a day and refereeing sibling fights?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheavals and stresses of a magnitude not seen before in modern history. With children unexpectedly home from closed schools and childcare centers, and workplaces shuttered, parents have had to scramble to ensure their children’s needs are met while holding down jobs and keeping their households running. More than one-third of families report that someone has stayed home from work to mind their children because of the outbreak, according to a nationwide survey by the Urban Institute, an economic policy research group.
The childcare crunch caused by COVID-19 has been particularly difficult for working mothers. Research has shown in areas where childcare isn’t available or has been reduced, there is a 12 percentage point drop in mothers’ labor force participation with no detectable impact on fathers. The Washington Post reports that Labor Department data shows more women have lost their jobs during this pandemic than men and that economists worry the pandemic will set American women’s job prospects back years.
Unfortunately, it appears many working families will be faced with closed or partially closed schools and childcare centers again in the fall. Employers should plan now for how to handle this childcare crisis and the effects it will continue to have on the workforce.
Congress recognized the need for some assistance for working families and passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March to guarantee two weeks of paid sick leave at two-thirds an employee’s regular pay to employees who can’t work because of a lack of childcare. It only applies to workers at private companies with fewer than 500 employees, and certain public sector employers. Employers must comply with the provisions of the FFCRA through December 31, 2020. For a complete summary of the FFRCA, see Smart HR’s Blog.
Currently, there are other legislative proposals addressing the COVID-19 childcare crisis. In May, two senators called for $25 billion in additional support for childcare providers and workers through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The funds would be used to support childcare providers by paying costs associated with closures and decreased attendance related to coronavirus ensuring providers can remain open or reopen.
In June, the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act was introduced which would expand greater tax benefits for childcare expenses, provide support for providers and provide $50 billion over five years in mandatory funding for federal childcare programs.
Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs)
Obviously, employers must do their part to support their working parents through the childcare crisis. FWAs are going to be key for many employers. By now, everyone is familiar and on board with allowing employees to work from home, shift their hours, job share, compress their workweeks, etc. See the Smart HR’s FWA Blog for more specifics and considerations for employers. If children are going to be doing virtual learning from home full or part-time, employers will have to provide employees the flexibility needed to care for their family members while doing work or employees will not be able to return to work.
Extending Leave Policies
COVID-19 forced business, big and small, to reexamine their leave policies. In an effort to keep employees not feeling well at home, many businesses offered additional sick leave. Some companies extended their leave policies to help parents impacted by school and childcare closures during the pandemic. Facebook announced employees could get an additional four week of leave to care for children, and Google providing employees up to 14 weeks of paid time off as part of their paid family caregiver leave policy. Where economically feasible, providing additional paid caregiver leave to employees is a great benefit. These extended leave policies are expensive, however, and you may need to look at other policies that could help your working parents.
Employers may implement care policies that include on or off-site childcare or financial support to parents enabling them to choose their own childcare facility or at-home care. Another option is to offer emergency childcare services when normal childcare arrangements break down. This could take the form of reserving extra places at nearby childcare centers for employee childcare emergencies, providing an in-home option where a third-party provider sends a trained childcare provider to the employee’s home for backup childcare, or provide a dedicated space onsite with a teacher or other childcare provider allowing employees to bring their children to work with them where they can be supervised during the day or after school hours.
Employers can also provide subsidies for childcare through online care platforms such as urbansitter.com or care.com. These services provide a range of solutions for childcare situations, from full-time nannies to last minute sitters, all vetted and background checked. Over 2 million workers can currently book sitters and nannies through their employer via Care@Work, the employee benefits division of Care.com. Care.com CEO, Tim Allen, reports a recent spike in employer interest, with the site adding over 200,000 employees to the platform since the effects of COVID-19 started to prompt state and local closures.
Care policies need not be limited to employees with children. They can also provide resources and support for all caregivers including those caring for elderly or ill family members and even pets.
Turn to Smart HR for Crisis Management
Even before COVID-19 hit, U.S. companies were losing billions of dollars every year when employees couldn’t report to work because of breakdowns in childcare. Policies you implement now will serve you and your workforce well even after the pandemic passes. Smart HR is up-to-date on significant legislation impacting your company and workforce and has the expertise to guide you through any complexities. Smart HR also knows every client is different and has access to varying levels of resources. A Smart HR consultant can devise appropriate strategies, policies and procedures within the parameters of your budget. Call for an initial consultation today.