Many schools generally start in the middle of August. Like it or not, parents count on schools to provide not only an education but childcare. As many people learned when schools and daycares closed in the spring, it's tough to work from home and watch and educate children all at the same time.
And a lot more people found out that when schools and daycares closed but their essential front line jobs didn't shut down, that child care was critical to any business's proper functioning.
Right now, school districts are debating the merits of online school, in-person school, or a mix. And employers are sitting on the edge of their seats, wondering what is going to happen with their employees.
When childcare/school first went up in smoke, the federal government stepped in with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that offered small business employees (under 500 employees) up to 12 paid weeks off to care for children who no longer had care due to Coronavirus shutdowns. But, that went into effect April 1, 2020, so if employees relied on that, it's long gone.
If they didn't, can they do so if schools don't open right away?
The answer is, it depends on what the schools do. Employment attorney Jon Hyman, of Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis, reminds employers that what the school does strongly impacts the business's obligation. (Companies larger than 500 aren't subject to FFCRA, but should pay attention anyway.)
1. If schools give the parents the option to choose distance learning or in-person learning, the employee is not eligible for FFCRA leave to care for their children. They had child care available and decided not to use it.
2. If schools are entirely online or distance, then parents can be eligible for FFCRA leave--up to 12 weeks of it.
3. If schools to a mixed schedule where kids are in the classroom part-time and at home part-time, then employees an ask their employers for intermittent FFCRA, but the company doesn't have to grant it.
Unless Congress extends FFCRA past its December 31 deadline or increases the number of weeks past 12, many parents have used up this time anyway. You can't run your business without employees, and employees will find it very difficult to work without schools. And if they extend FFCRA leave, it may help your employees, but your business needs people to run.
None of this addresses the health issues involved in school re-opening. I'm certainly not qualified to say whether or not schools should re-open. But, it's an issue you need to address now with your employees. Just how will you make it work if kids can't go back (or parents don't want to send them back) to school?
Your legal obligations can be different than your moral obligations, and your business has genuine needs as well. Ask your employees what they think the best solution is and listen. They may not be right, but they may have some great ideas. You need to start talking now--time is running out.