How School Closures Will Affect Employers

By: Chandra C. Davis and Antoinette Trott

From its inception, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has presented employers with a myriad of problems. What might have seemed like a small inconvenience at first has now grown into a much larger problem. The challenges employers face in the time of the coronavirus are far from over. With the school year quickly approaching, many employers are trying to figure out how to adjust to the fact many working parents might need to be absent regularly because they do not have a safe place to send their children.

As we saw in March 2020, working parents have had to make quick adjustments to their work schedule to accommodate the shift in their children’s learning environment. These quick adjustments could be semi-permanent as the 2020-2021 school year begins. Many school districts are employing various learning models: totally virtual learning environment, in-person learning environment, or a blended method, students are in-person on designated days and attend class virtually on the alternate days.

Having students in-person or a blended method does create a threat of COVID-19 infections increasing. That threat directly impacts employers because school, childcare, and job responsibilities are interwoven for countless working parents. In fact, a survey released by the nonprofit, Parents Together, states that, 44% of parents with children under the age of 5 reported that childcare was the main reason they lost income. As such, employers may have to be even more creative about staffing.  Should you consider contingency workers, part-time workers, a blended work from home and in-person working days?

The key word here is “flexibility.” Employers must ensure that its leave procedures are flexible to help working parents cope with a changing learning environment for their children. Now more than ever employees need employers to be understanding and flexible.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex and gender discrimination. This includes discrimination based on sex stereotypes. The risk of treating female employees less favorably than male employees is real because historically, caregiving responsibilities were tasks performed by women. This fact has contributed to unfair stereotypes about their work dedication. Implementing flexible schedules will not only protect employers legally, but it will also make employees feel valued and boost morale which will undoubtedly improve productivity.

Before implementing a schedule, employers should assess its employees’ needs.  Implementing a survey to all employees—not just employees with known children or family caregiving responsibilities— to see how many employees might be impacted by childcare or other family care issues. There may be members of your team that have medically vulnerable family members, which may impact the employee’s willingness to return to work at your facility.  A survey early on will allow employers to obtain data as to what scheduling and staffing issues may occur during the 2020-2021 school year, and employers can draft schedules based on the survey data.

Additionally, employers need to understand what and how leave laws apply to it and its employees. Some states have leave laws which may be applicable to your workforce. In response to the coronavirus, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is applicable to most businesses with 500 or fewer employees. The act is broken in to two components. The component relevant when it comes to working parents and their children is the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, which is triggered if employees must care for children whose schools or child care centers have closed due to the coronavirus. This Act gives working parents 12 weeks of leave—the first two weeks are unpaid, but an employee can receive partial pay for the last ten weeks. Employers should know that employees can use this leave in blocks. It does not have to be used all at once.  The Act is in effect until the end of 2020.

In cases where an employee has already used all its leave this past spring, employers should consider providing extra leave (paid or unpaid) that is not legally mandated. If providing extra leave is not an option, employers should consider the following:

  • Grant flexible work arrangements
  • Partnering with local childcare facilities to provide discounted or free childcare services
  • Promote good hygiene in and out of the workplace to keep workers and their families healthy
  • Establishing a childcare facility onsite
  • Allotting unused office space as a virtual classroom for children
  • Establishing and/or subsidize a babysitter and eldercare bank with reputable caregivers

Policymakers believe that additional laws may need to be passed to address employees’ need for longer leave. Employers must ensure they are up to date with all applicable laws. If you need help figuring out what to do and what leave laws apply to your business, feel free to contact ELS at