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Dealing with Employee Issues in the Time of Covid-19: Absences Caused By Remote Schooling And Alternative Schedules.

Neva Stotler

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way that most people go about living their daily lives. What was once hoped to be a temporary situation, does not seem to be going anywhere soon. Compounding matters, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act is set to expire in weeks, with no clear indication as to how or if the legislature will react to the expiration of the benefits. At the end of the last school year, most parents learned what it was like to have to conduct schooling from home. Parents were also hopeful that they could safely send their kids back to school this school year.

However, children around Pennsylvania have a multitude of schooling arrangements that parents must contend with right now, and possibly into the next semester of the school year. It is likely that you will be dealing with, or are already dealing with, employees who need accommodations for child school arrangements during the pandemic. Your employees may request to take time off to help their children or your employees may request to work remotely. This, coupled with increased illness and accommodations for employees with underlying disorders, essential worker requirements, stay-at-home and remote work cautions, will present operational complications for your business.

Here, N. Stotler Law wants to discuss how your company or municipality can go about dealing with employee absences in the midst of school closures, school remote, and alternate schedules for employee families.

The current law

The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (“FFCRA”)that was passed by Congress earlier this year temporarily expands the Family and Medical Leave Act, providing that employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave at 2/3 their regular rate of pay to care for their children if the school is closed due to COVID-19-related reasons.

The first 80 hours of leave is protected by Emergency Sick Leave, a one-time benefit that can be used for 8 qualifying reasons, including school closures where the employee has no other reasonable alternative and cannot work remotely.

The remaining 10 weeks of leave is protected by the expanded Family and Medical Leave provisions of the FFCRA. When an employee asks for leave due to the closure of their child school or the unavailability of childcare, the employer needs to document:

  • The name and age of the child being cared for
  • The name of the school or child care provider that has closed or become unavailable
  • A statement from the employee that there was no other suitable person to care for the child

These inquiries assist the employer in determining whether the leave is qualified under the FFCRA and whether it can be reimbursed from the IRS as qualified paid time off.

How should you plan for 2021?

Employers should look towards 2021 childcare and school-related leave requests assuming you have at least 6-8 months, if not longer, where schools, depending on community spread and geographic location, may experience schedule changes impacting employees. Take what you have learned so far from adjustments required by the pandemic and formulate company policies for the new year. Do not wait for the government. Formulate fair leave policies that work for your agency, and if the state or federal government mandates certain leave benefits, you can adjust.

  • Review and consider remote work options. You have most certainly found that some work can be performed remotely. Consider putting in a place remote work policies that serve your company’s needs beyond the pandemic. In addition, if accountability remains an issue, there are technological solutions to add accountability to work from home arrangements. Remote work allows you to get some productivity from employees who have to remain at home. And, it gives employees earning potential so long as they remain productive in a remote scenario. Part-time remote work may make sense.
  • Consider shift work and reduced crews to increase separation and reduce on-site needs. Hybrid arrangements may present needed flexibility.
  • Think about whether your leave policies are realistic; assess all paid time as well as time that is mandated by law and update leave policies, with the intent to communicate leave policies to employees in the new year, expect accountability for leave time, and enforce your policies consistently. Unpaid leave may need to be a part of your leave considerations. Unpaid leave for exempt employees needs to be handled in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Now is the time for creative but imperfect solutions. You can strike a balance between public health needs and operating your business. You can expect employees to take responsibility for doing their job, just as employees can expect you to provide a safe environment for them to do the work in.

Contact an attorney for a free consultation of your case

If you have any further questions about employee absences due to ever-changing school schedules, contact N. Stotler Law for help with your case today. Attorney Stotler has decades of experience helping municipalities and other types of employers handle situations like this. As we all work together to help one another during the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s make sure that we do this in a way that is fair for you and your employees. You can contact us for a consultation of your case by clicking here or calling 724-841-5565

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