School Closings vs. Business Openings

Whether or not to open schools and how that can be done safely has become a hot topic in the news, in workplaces, and in employees’ homes. Employers are bracing for the possibility that employees will be absent part or all of the time because they have nowhere to safely send their kids. Individual school districts have individual plans, compounding the problem. Some schools will be going back to the classroom full time, some doing a hybrid of in-person and online, some 100% virtual. And all of the plans are subject to change based on COVID numbers; federal, state, and local health orders; positive tests in a school or classroom; and so on.

Because school, childcare, and job responsibilities will be intertwined for many working parents for the foreseeable future, employers should plan for the long haul. Instead of patching together interim plans, employers might want to consider looking at this as a long term need. It’s possible there won’t be a vaccine at all, and if there is, it will take time to manufacture, distribute, and administer enough vaccine for there to be reliable stability for our working parents. Also, childcare and schools will be affected by the economic hit of COVID-19 just as much as the rest of us. Childcare, like the hospitality and entertainment industries, will need to adjust accordingly. This pandemic is likely to change the way childcare and the workplace look for a long time to come.

We published this article on supporting working parents back in March, and it is still applicable. But going into fall, we are more knowledgeable about the burden put on parents who have to balance work, kids, and schooling. According to a July survey by the ParentsTogether non-profit group, 84 percent responded that a school or daycare they attended is closed.

Parents are currently working on plans a, b, and c for their families; employers should too. While the FFCRA and other state-mandated leaves certainly apply, additional flexibility and communication are going to be critical in getting us all through this time.

A few things to consider:

  • Flexible scheduling options: engage with employees to identify work schedules that meet business and personal needs.
  • Childcare support: offer guidance to childcare options – ask employees for ideas and proposed solutions.
  • Intermittent leave: consider allowing employees with pressing childcare needs the option of taking leave and sharing childcare with other family members. Consider if leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is applicable.
  • Job sharing: multiple employees may need similar accommodations to balance work with home needs, and they may be able to share responsibilities to get the work done on a reduced schedule.

And remember, employees who feel they are trusted, heard, and supported, are going to be more engaged. If they know you are working to help them get through this time, they will do the same for you. Employers Council is here to help, please call and we can talk you through it.