“Dustin, is anyone talking about how deeply connected schools re-opening and governments re-opening is? Because they need to be.” (Client last week).
OK, let’s talk about it then.
On March 13th, President Trump declared a national emergency, and guidelines were quickly issued to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people for 15 days. This date roughly coincided with the typical Spring Break weeks for schools across the country. When the kids left, the schools decided that was a prudent time to suspend classes; most never reopened.
In addition to all of their critically important educational roles, in practical terms schools directly serve as the largest foodservice and childcare facilities in their local areas. This could have been a dramatic event if kids were home without parents.
Of course, it wasn’t just the schools. Most employees generally also found themselves at home in this timeframe, so the crisis of kids at home without parents was largely avoided. Most parents were able to care for their children at home by blending their personal and professional responsibilities through a difficult adjustment period spanning the last several months.
As governments work on an evolving new normal staffing model for the fall and beyond, however, one key factor will reemerge: what happens if the government needs staff to readopt physical presence in the fall, but the schools adopt a partial schedule, or simply don’t open? Congress has actually recently established new legislation addressing this scenario.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in its traditional form already allows for job-protected leave – using accrued vacation/sick leave pay – due to birth, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or a serious health condition of the employee.
FMLA was expanded on March 18th through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in two ways. First, up to 14 weeks of paid leave (in a series of complex scenarios and calculations, consult DOL guidance for specifics).
Second, family leave-related job protection was expanded to include circumstances where the employee is unable to work (including telework) for reasons that include:
· Being subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
· Being advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
· Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
· Caring for an individual in self-quarantine;
· Caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19;
The final provision speaks to the possible new challenge and choice that has been somewhat masked due to the coincidence of the crisis running over the summer months. But that choice will be unmasked in about 45 days if schools don’t fully open.
How should Governments anticipate and mitigate this possible risk?
- Accelerate teleworking adoption: As many staff enter their third month of Work From Home, technological infrastructure gaps are revealing themselves. Personal phones for extended government business creates a Pandora’s Box of issues. Connectivity, true network access, exposure of personal data to open records laws, and printing documents for the lingering paper signatures all have begun to emerge as topics needing sustainable solutions.
- Establish Flex Schedule Options: Staggered onsite schedules can not only reduce onsite employee density, but can also let employees who may need to proctor children at home through a virtual school year seek to sync their schedules with school schedules.
- Blanket Extension for Licensing for Daycare Providers: Daycare is a backstop piece of supporting infrastructure in this scenario, and small providers may get lost in the bureaucracy or may be struggling financially. Consider automatic one-year renewals at no cost to remove any possible complexity of keeping these facilities online.
- Open a Dialogue: Staff in these situations are likely already having these discussions at home. Proactive discussions with employees with children at home can help anticipate and mitigate any potential complications.
Have you started considering this intersection and planning for how to lead in this scenario? Chime in below.