Your Employees’ Back-to-School Blues: Accommodating Parents in the Workplace whose Children are Learning Remotely During COVID-19

The 2020 school year is here.  Instead of new binder covers and backpacks, parents are now back-to-school shopping for ergonomic desks and web-cams.  It’s the “new normal,” and parents and employers are grappling with how to handle the reality that many parents may want or need to work from home this fall due to COVID-19, possibly with little notice if schools close again.  On September 2, 2020 at 12:00pm, Skelton, Taintor and Abbott employment attorneys Amy Dieterich & Jordan Payne Hay will be partnering with the L/A Chamber of Commerce via Zoom to lead a discussion about how employers and parents can navigate leave and remote work questions from parents whose kids are learning from home.  Click HERE to register for the virtual event.  Bring your questions!

In the meantime, here is some guidance from the Federal Department of Labor (DOL) about eligibility for paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which is a topic many employers and parents are thinking about as fall approaches:

Question: Does the FFCRA apply when an employee needs time away from work because their child is not in school?

Answer: It depends, of course!  Luckily, this is the question of 2020, and the DOL has been doing its best to issue guidance and provide resources to employers and employees alike.  Recently, the DOL assembled an interactive online tool for determining FFCRA eligibility, which can be accessed online HERE.  The online tool is at least a good place to start.  Another important point to remember about the childcare provisions of the FFCRA, is that benefits for childcare purposes are only allowed if the place of care is “unavailable.”  This suggests, at least according to the DOL, that where a parent has chosen to keep their child at home, they are not entitled to FFCRA benefits.

Question: So, if an employee’s child’s school has moved to online instruction, is the school considered “closed” for purposes of the FFCRA?

Answer: According to the DOL, “[i]f the physical location where your child received instruction or care is now closed, the school or place of care is ‘closed’ for purposes of paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave. This is true even if some or all instruction is being provided online or whether, through another format such as ‘distance learning,’ your child is still expected or required to complete assignments.”  Nevertheless, as stated above, if students are invited by the school district to return to school in person, then a choice by the parent/employee to instead select a remote learning option will not result in the employee having a qualifying reason for child care leave benefits under the FFCRA because in-person learning is available.

It’s safe to say that we will all be learning new things this school year.  Please join Attorneys Dieterich and Hay as we kick off the back-to-school discussion to answer your questions about how to navigate these employment issues.

This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance in the area of employment and corporate law. Amy DieterichJordan Payne Hay, and James  F. Pross are employment and labor law attorneys; others at the firm handle business and other matters. Since 1853, Skelton Taintor & Abbott has provided a full range of high-quality legal services to the individuals, companies, and municipalities of Maine. The firm’s main office is located in Auburn and in January 2019, a mid-coast office was opened in Waldoboro.

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