With summer coming to a close, working parents are stressing over how to balance work and their children’s schooling and/or childcare.

In a recent COVID-19 business information discussion hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Alera West Region’s compliance consultant, Bob Bentley, and lead HR services partner, Allyson Thomas, shared resources South Sound businesses can use to help employees who have school and childcare needs.

Bentley listed several resources, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSLA), and Expanded Family & Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA). 

The FFRCA requires all private employers, with fewer than 500 employees and some non-federal entities regardless of size, to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The EPSLA requires employers provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave to employees who need to take leave from work for certain specified reasons related to COVID-19. And the EMFLA requires employers provide up to 10 weeks of paid, and two weeks unpaid, emergency family and medical leave to eligible employees if the employee is caring for his or her son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

There are EPSLA and EFMLEA exceptions, Bentley said. For small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the required leave could jeopardize the viability of the business. The exception for EPSLA applies only when an employee takes leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19. 

Aside from state and federal resources, Thomas shared other options businesses can do to help employees.

“Parents already face challenges in juggling childcare and school and of course the pandemic has added an additional level of anxiety and concern around that,” she said. “We all know that we’ve got to be flexible in this environment. But we also have to recognize that recruiting, hiring, and training are all expensive undertakings, so if we can be flexible and find ways to keep our employees on board and productive, that’s better for them and better for our bottom line as well.”

Since most schools and childcare centers will be closed for the foreseeable future, Thomas recommended that employers ask their employees what they need and realize one option may not work for everyone.

Some options to consider, Thomas said, include working from home, flexible schedules,  alternate or a compressed workweek, and job sharing, among others.

“I think if we can help reduce concerns over childcare and school by providing some options and ideas, that will help our employees to stay focused and increase their productivity,” Thomas said.

Thomas went on to highlight possible options for working parents, including parent pods, employer childcare or schoolroom, and others. 

Parent pods are becoming more popular among working parents, Thomas said. Many parents are creating pods among friends and neighbors to provide a safe place for children to gather and learn. Challenges include finding a safe place for instruction, finding a tutor or teacher, and keeping children and families safe from COVID-19. 

Employer childcare and school rooms are also being created, where the employer offers space for employees’ children to be looked after and/or do schoolwork. Similar challenges of parent pods remain with employer childcare and school rooms as well. 

Thomas mentioned other leaves of absence for working parents, including the Washington State and City of Tacoma paid sick leave, use of other employer-provided paid time off, and unpaid leave of absence.

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