School’s Out for the Summer…. but My Summer Program Options for My Kids Are Limited

Businesses are reopening, offices are sending out plans for returning to work, but some employees still have limited options for what their kids will do all summer. Although we are taking paces to get back to “normal,” parents are faced with limitations for child care programs for kiddos to keep them engaged and off tablets all day long and ensuring they have suitable care while parents work. With the new-found taste of working from home, some employees are asking for more remote work even though workplaces are opening up with plans for phased plans to return to the office. When employees ask for more work from home, employers may have hesitation to continue work from home arrangements because of an unspoken concern that employees are taking advantage of the circumstances to work less.

Before we jump to the concern that employees may be taking advantage of work from home, it may be an important time to pause and ask our employees what they need as they navigate summer programs for their school-aged kids. There is a great deal of inconsistency in availability for summer camp programs. Some summer camp options remain available, while others have canceled entirely. Rather than expecting your employees to try to figure this out, engage in conversations with employees to see what you can do to support them. This may mean employee “A” has it all covered, whereas employee “B” was notified 1 week ago that their summer program is not available. Initiating conversation with employees regarding their needs and wants for working remotely can go a long way in removing personal stress that affects their work performance.

In addition to taking a proactive and interested approach with your employees, it is important to understand employer responsibilities under the Family First Coronoavirus Response Act (FFCRA) for leave related to school closure and child care closures due to COVID-19.  FFCRA requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of leave (EFMLEA) under certain circumstances. With EFMLEA, the issue of leave may become a bit more complicated when schools close for summer. Covered employers are required to provide paid emergency leave when schools are closed for reasons related to COVID-19 only; school closure due to summer break does not qualify an employee for EFMLEA leave.

However, if an employee’s plans for summer childcare have fallen through due to closures related to COVID-19, employers must provide EFMLEA leave to employees when requested. Leave request forms on file for employees who took leave to provide childcare precipitated by a school closure due to COVID-19, should be reviewed. It is permissible to advise the employee to update their form and to provide documentation if their summer childcare is not available due to COVID-19. It is permissible to ask employees if they can identify a responsible adult (spouse, partner, another family member) to provide childcare; sharing childcare can be facilitated with intermittent leave arrangements if both employer and employee agree on a plan.

When asking for updated documentation, employers must not be overly demanding nor interfere with employee leave rights under FFCRA. If an employee attests they are unable to find childcare, that is adequate; an employer may not request further documentation. Employers should document such attestations for tax credit purposes in case of IRS audits.

The FFCRA is effective through December 31, 2020. For more information on FFCRA, consult our Coronavirus Resources page.

Although there may be some abuse in working remotely. In these situations, we recommend employers address the concern directly with the employee. In most cases, assume positive intent that your employees are working hard to meet the expectations of their job while juggling kids with limited summer program options. Have open conversations regarding what you expect of your employees, where you can and cannot be flexible with work hours, location, and assignments.  Seeking to understand the challenges your employee(s) may be faced with in addressing childcare during the summer of 2020 can have a positive impact on enhancing employee engagement.

Employers Council assists members with challenging conversations and situations; contact us today for help.