Commentary & Opinion

How do parents return to work without available child care?

By Jon Hyman

May. 6, 2020

Child care is the issue that has gotten the least attention in discussions about employees returning to work.

As states begin to slowly reopen and return employees to work, working parents are left wondering who will care for their children if schools, day cares and camps are closed.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides working parents with some relief with its 12 weeks of paid child care-related leave. But that law has limits.
  1. It does not apply to businesses with 500 or more employees, and businesses with less than 50 employees can exempt themselves from the childcare-related leave provisions.
  2. It limits an employee’s leave allotment to 12 weeks, meaning that if an employee started taking childcare-related paid leave when the FFCRA took effect on April 1, he or she will exhaust their paid leave on June 24.
  3. It does not apply if there is anyone else available to care for an employee’s child(ren) during the employee’s working time.

And the FFCRA does not account for parents who are stretched the point of exhaustion, working their full workdays remotely, and then working another full workday managing child care-related responsibilities. Consider the following hypothetical from the New York Law Journal.

Maya is an investment banker in New York City and typically works a 10-hour day. Maya has a nanny care for her infant daughter while she is at the office. During this pandemic, Maya is forced to work at home and her nanny is unable to help. Maya now has to handle a 10-hour/day job using less-than-ideal remote access technology—her remote desktop does not operate as smoothly as her office computer; she has one screen on her home computer as opposed to three in her office; she does not have direct access to her assistant or her other staff; she does not have the full panoply of office supplies and other corporate-level printing and copying, etc. With all these hindrances, Maya must work 12 hours to accomplish the same work she previously did in 10. On top of that, she must care for her infant daughter all day, which conservatively involves approximately eight hours of direct, hands-on attention. For Maya to cover her responsibilities (minus any time for even a short break), she must work a 20-hour day. And, she must do this every day, indefinitely, until the circumstances of this pandemic change.

Or consider, for example, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who on May 5 said that some K-12 schools are considering starting the 2020–21 school year on a split schedule. Half of a school’s students would attend in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesday, and the other half of Thursdays and Fridays. Students would distance learn on the days they aren’t in school in person.

This plan is great for helping schools manage social distance, but it’s terrible for working parents who are left scratching their heads figuring out who will help manage distance learning and otherwise watch their children on the days they aren’t in school, and who will provide child care after school.

What’s an employer to do?

1. Don’t discriminate. Family responsibility discrimination remains unlawful under Title VII. While federal law does not expressly include “family responsibility” as a protected class, the EEOC has long held that Title VII’s prohibits discrimination against parents as parents if you are treating some more favorably than others (e.g., dads better than moms, or men better than moms). There are also, a few states that expressly prohibit parental discrimination. If, for example, you have to make decisions about layoffs, you should be considering whether working parents are disproportionately included.

2. Consider accommodations to aid working parents. Work from home is already an accommodation, but there are others that could help here. Modified work schedules (which the Department of Labor favors in its FFCRA guidance), designated breaks, and the provision of additional work supplies such as laptops and printers could all ease the burden on parents working from home. Our goal here should be helping employees figure out solutions to get their job done, not harming employees (and the business) by erecting barriers that prevent it.
3. Finally, and most importantly, flexibility is key. Ohio’s Stay Safe Order mandates that manufacturers, distributors, construction companies, and offices allow employees to “work from home whenever possible.” If employees can work remotely, let them work remotely. Flexibility, understanding, and compassion is the best answer I can offer for the foreseeable future.
Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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