September 21, 2020

Workforce Issues During School Closures

Back-to-Virtual Learning: Tips for Navigating Workforce Issues During School Closures 

As the summer ends and COVID-19 continues to impact our daily lives, both employers and employees are facing numerous challenges as most school districts in Kentucky delay the start of in-person classes. Generally, city employees are eligible for leave for physical school closures under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA). As the Department of Labor (DOL) explains, “[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,” even if there is a distance learning component.

Eligible employees can receive up to 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds (2/3) their normal rate of pay through a combination of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion (EFMLEA) through December 31, 2020. Details of how EPSL and EFMLEA works for cities are outlined on our KLC COVID-19 resource page, including how to calculate the leave, options for supplementing leave with employee’s accrued leave, and total leave balances.

Federal law requires the employee to attest that no other suitable person is available to care for the child during the requested period of leave. The DOL has further clarified in the FAQ guidance that the employee “may take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave to care for your child only when [the employee] needs to, and actually are, caring for [their] child if [the employee is] unable to work or telework as a result of providing care.” As the DOL explains, the employee, “do[es] not need to take such leave if a co-parent, co-guardian, or your usual child care provider is available to provide the care your child needs.” KLC recommends the use of a written form for leave requests and have samples for EPSL and EFMLEA available.

Cities will generally need to accept the employee’s attestation that they are the only suitable caregiver at face value. However, the DOL clarification indicates that additional discussion may be warranted if the city becomes aware of facts or circumstances that call the employee’s attestation into question. Cities will need to exercise caution in gathering any additional facts related to the availability of alternative caregivers and need to work with the city attorney prior to further discussion with the employee. Cities can also reach out to KLC Personnel Services to discuss specific fact scenarios.

Additional tips for handling staffing challenges with continued school closures:

Most employees want to keep working but may not see how it is possible. As the employer, you can start this dialogue and discuss options that will meet both the city’s needs and the employees. Keeping good employees through this pandemic is key to continued success

  • Encourage, but do not require, intermittent leave. The DOL encourages employers and employees to find flexibility, when possible, to allow for intermittent use of leave. However, keep in mind that both the employer and the employee must agree to intermittent leave. Facilitate discussion of the possible pros for the employee to stretch out the available leave longer into the calendar year, since the EFMLEA is limited to 12 weeks total.
  • Expand teleworking options for administrative employees where possible. Employees that can telework are not eligible for EFMLEA for the time or work they can complete via telework. Where feasible, teleworking can support employees while providing continued work for the city. Some positions may be conducive to all telework or a hybrid of telework, reporting to the office, and intermittent leave time. Having discussions with the employee as well as department supervisors can assist in finding the right fit under these challenging circumstances. Cities can request a sample written policy for teleworking from KLC Personnel Services that each city can tailor to their needs
  • Consider possibilities for restructuring workday/normal hours. You cannot single out an employee who is eligible for EFMLEA to work different hours. However, this pandemic has provided a broader opportunity to challenge the continued functionality and efficiency of typical work hours. For example, can the city be creative in splitting shifts to not only provide protection from widespread workforce COVID exposure, but also accommodate all of the demands currently in employees’ personal lives? While the city does have to continue offering services to the community, times like these invite creative solutions for improving productivity and employee retention.
  • Consider optional benefits to help with childcare cost. Some cities already offer dependent care FSA accounts to employees, which may help offset new childcare costs for employees this fall. Work with your benefits manager and your CPA to discuss options for employees tapping into these resources, if they have not been using them previously.
  • Facilitate sharing of information about community resources. Many communities are coming together to offer creative solutions through the use of learning pods and other options. While the city wants to make sure to not endorse a particular option, employers can help direct employees to helpful lists that have been compiled within the community.
  • Remind employees of the city’s Employee Assistance Program. If the city has an employee assistance program (EAP), remind employees of the benefits of contacting the EAP for information. Many EAPs not only offer services to assist in times of great stress but may offer childcare referrals and other resources.
  • Do not offer learning centers run by the city. The city should avoid opening a learning center on-site for employees. Not only are there licensing concerns when hiring an individual to watch multiple children, but there is an increased liability concern. KLCIS is recommending member cities avoid this on-site option.
  • Remember the facts are key. EPSL and EFMLEA issues are extremely fact specific determinations.

    Reach out to KLC Personnel Services Manager Andrea Shindlebower Main to discuss specific situations.