Out of all the different workplace challenges that have emerged from the pandemic, workers being forced to balance child-care responsibilities while maintaining their jobs has proven to be among the most difficult. Currently, working parents are left with little options finding alternative child-care amid all the closures of schools, camps, and day-care facilities. As we approach a new school year which will likely be heavily focused on home-based online-learning programs, the number of options available to parents for child-care will dwindle even further.
Some common questions that have come up relating to child-care issues include:
- I am a parent working remotely and struggling to balance caring for my child at the same time. As a working parent, am I entitled to any accommodations?
- I am an essential worker who does not have the option to work remotely, my child’s day-care is closed, and I do not have any other child-care options due to the pandemic. Can my job fire me for taking time off while I figure out alternative child-care arrangements?
- My child’s school is physically closed but has shifted to online learning. Am I still entitled to any child-care accommodations?
- My job is laying off 25% of the workforce and I am concerned that they will target employees with children because of anticipated child-care issues. Is this legal?
While workers in any of these scenarios ordinarily do not have much legal protection under federal law, the recently enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) addresses these issues. The FFCRA, among other things, amends the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and expands the qualifying reasons for job-protected leave under the law. The amendment requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid-leave to eligible employees who are unable to work due to his or her child’s school or child-care provider being unavailable due to COVID-19. The FFCRA applies to employers with 500 or less employees.
Just like all other requests to take FMLA leave, an employee struggling with child-care responsibilities during the pandemic need not expressly request leave under the FMLA in order to be afforded protection under the law. So long as an employee has provided sufficient information to put their employer on notice that they may be in need of FMLA leave, the employer must notify the employee of their eligibility to take leave under the law. An employer’s failure to provide this notice may result in a violation of the FMLA.
If you are an employee who has faced termination, retaliation, discrimination, or any other adverse action at work due to your child-care issues during the pandemic, you may be entitled to damages under the FFCRA. This includes lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees, or job reinstatement.
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