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Supporting Your Employees With Children When School “Starts” in the Fall of 2020
by Mary Jo Spiekerman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

2020 has shaped up to be a year that defies description for employers. We can all agree that the times we are living in and the challenges employers and employees face are unprecedented.

The “sprint” that many of us hoped COVID-19 would be has turned into a marathon. We will not be returning to “normal” any time in the near future. Or perhaps ever. And each “new normal” we adapt to evolves rapidly into something else.

It’s time to consider the next significant challenge many of our employees with school age children will face. That is adapting to the resumption of school this fall.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has issued a guidance document titled "Education Forward - Safely and Successfully Reopening Wisconsin's Schools."   It discusses several different models for instruction responding to the pandemic that include designs such as:
  • 4 days of in person instruction, 1 day virtual each week.
  • 2 day rotations – half of the students attend class Mondays and Tuesdays, the other half Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays the facilities are closed for deep cleaning. 3 days per week students learn virtually.
  • A/B week rotations – Half the students attend in person class one week, then move to virtual for the next week when the other half attends in person.
  • Elementary students attend in person class 5 days a week but are spread out into middle school and high school facilities. Middle and high school students attend class virtually all year.
In addition to these models, some school districts in areas where COVID-19 transmission appears high have determined they will begin the school year virtually.
As you think about your workforce, consider that employees may have children in a variety of different school districts based upon where they live. So accommodations that you might make for one employee may need to be different for other employees because their school districts have adopted different schedules.

After school programs may or may not be open, or employees may be uncomfortable placing their children in those programs. Some employees may choose to move their children to all virtual instruction alternative schools either wanting the consistency of that type of instruction full time or wanting to avoid risking their children’s exposure to others in the classroom. Some employees may have an immunocompromised family member in the household and may choose all virtual instruction in response to that situation.

A reminder that Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Paid Family Leave benefits may be available to your employees through December 31, 2020 if they are unable to work or telework due to the need to care for a child under the age of 18 because of school or child care closure due to a public health emergency. Individually evaluating each employee’s situation will be necessary to determine whether or not the employee qualifies for this benefit.

Employees may ask you for alternative schedules or perhaps even be interested in moving to part time employment in order to balance their work responsibilities with the level of time they need to devote to child care or classwork instruction.

This is a stressful time for employers and employees alike. Consideration now of accommodations and flexibility in scheduling may make your employee’s home lives easier and may contribute greatly toward their long term engagement with your organization.

 
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