Transitioning Back to Workplace Benefits Culture

Back to School—Back to the Workplace: How to Offer Support to Your Employees

August 19, 2021

The return-to-school landscape looks much different than it did in 2020. Most schools have transitioned back to in-person learning – but working parents are still feeling the pressure to manage caregiver responsibilities.

This time last year, we gave guidance on the ways employers can support working parents. We’re back with some updated tips for supporting them based on the changes occurring this school year.

Offer Supportive Leave Policies

Ensure you have the right leave policies in place to support your employees. Many states and municipalities have requirements for employers to provide time off for COVID-19 related reasons for employees themselves or to care for a family member, or to obtain the vaccine and deal with any potential side effects. Some employers may have continued to offer Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leave under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which will expire on September 30, 2021. Several emergency and supplemental state and local time-off requirements are also scheduled to expire soon and may not be extended.

Whether or not required leave ends, we are still facing a pandemic. Look beyond the leave that is required and determine what your employee population needs. Employees should feel confident that they can take time away from work to care for themselves and their families. This includes time to get themselves and their families vaccinated. Many school-age children do not have access to the vaccine, but hopefully will soon. Be prepared to offer your employees time off to take family members to vaccine appointments and to care for them as they recover from vaccine side effects, if needed.

Put Quarantine Procedures in Place

If your workforce has returned to the workplace, put procedures in place that set expectations for quarantining due to a known or suspected case of COVID-19 or COVID-19 exposure. The return to in-person school adds a new element that should be addressed in these procedures—what to do when an employee’s child is required to quarantine. Keep in mind any applicable federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards regarding workplace safety, either permanent or temporary/emergency, that you may need to comply with.

Examples of questions that should be are addressed are:

  • Is the employee able to work remotely?
  • Is time-off available to the employee either under the company’s policy or required by state or local law, or under federal or state disability laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as an accommodation?
  • At what point must the employee quarantine?

It’s also important to communicate this information to your employees. There’s a strong probability of a parent needing to take care of a child who must quarantine as students return in person, and employers – and their employees – should be prepared.

Give Your Employees Time to Prepare

Though businesses may be transitioning back to the workplace, it can still be difficult for employees to find care for their children. Many daycares closed during the pandemic and some have not reopened. Some may have reopened but are not fully staffed. Additionally, parents may have difficulty finding after school care to cover a full workday.

Your employees will need time to prepare after you make the decision to return to work. Give them as much notice as possible so they can make the childcare decisions that will work well for them and their families prior to returning to the workplace. Also remember that a qualifying reason for leave under the FFCRA, and some state or local time off laws, is to care for the employee’s child whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons.

Lead with Empathy and Be Flexible

Remind leaders to lead with empathy as their employees return. Employees are looking for more work life balance and flexibility. Some working parents enjoyed the additional bonding time they experienced with their children and are eager to maintain it after they come back to the office.

One example of how you can give your employees more flexibility is by setting “core hours,” with meetings only occurring during a set time frame during the day. Perhaps an employee is an early riser and wants to start their workday earlier, or maybe they want to walk their child to school to maintain that bonding time – core hours may allow for more work-life balance, provided the employee continues to meet performance expectations.

Managers and human resources also need to be prepared for employees to request modified or reduced work schedules. Have a process in place for evaluating these requests. The process should balance the needs of the business while being empathetic to the employee and their needs. Managers may dismiss a request to work remotely one or two days a week—forgetting the employee worked remotely prior to returning to the workplace and did their job successfully. Also, make sure requests are evaluated consistently and without regard to a person’s caregiver status. Keep in mind that such requests may also be covered by federal, state, or local accommodation laws, such as disability, pregnancy, lactation, etc., and employers must comply with any applicable requirements to engage in the interactive process and/or provide specific accommodations.

As this school year continues alongside the pandemic…be ready, be flexible and continue to communicate with your employees. You’ll not only demonstrate your empathy and support, but you’ll also retain valued employees.

By Kelly Pacatte

Kelly Pacatte is a senior employee relations consultant with TriNet.

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