There has been a great deal of discussion and handwringing about the idea of kids, teachers, and support staff returning to brick and mortar schools this fall in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.
One of the largest teacher's unions has officially supported its members striking if they don't believe their schools are safe from the virus.
Parents have been asked to weigh in on the question of whether students should learn in a classroom, from home using the internet, or a hybrid of the two approaches.
The White House has been pushing hard to get schools to open, even threatening to withhold limited federal funds from schools that don't have kids return to classrooms.
And there are also legal questions facing employees and their employers when parents have to juggle tending to children learning remotely and getting their own work done.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) entitles employees of companies with 500 or fewer workers to emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and expanded family and medical leave (EFML) if school is closed because of the pandemic. Parents have to take care of their children in circumstances where childcare or school will not be available because of COVID.
If a school operates virtually, parents are likely entitled to up to two weeks of paid leave under the new EPSL, and potentially 12 weeks of total leave with the new EFML. Leave under FFCRA may be taken intermittently, but only by agreement of the employer. Employees and their employers will need to discuss options to ensure that families are taken care of and that people are able to continue to earn a living.
There are employees who are not covered by FFCRA or have already exhausted their leave. What options are available to them? Legally, there might not be many, but that is where it is important for the employee and the employer to engage in a meaningful dialogue and work together to find a viable solution.
Thinking back to March, many of us probably thought the pandemic would be a short-lived inconvenience of only a few weeks duration. We are realistically looking at COVID-19 issues continuing to trouble us well into 2021.
We also don't know what Congress is going to do regarding more stimulus money. Many people are still not working or not working their usual number of hours and could benefit from extra unemployment payments. If the additional funds don't come through, some families face dire circumstances.
Parents shouldn't have to choose between caring for their children and making an honest wage, but there are families that will face that dilemma. That said, if you are offered work that is not considered safe during a pandemic, you might be able to collect unemployment if the work is deemed unsafe.
If you are returning to the workplace, you want to make sure it’s as safe as possible.
As you return to work, if you have any concerns about the procedures your employer is implementing, you should speak with your manager or human resource officer about them, and you may want to communicate in writing so that you have a record. If you have any serious problems, you can reach out to us at 404-487-0903 or visit our website at www.justiceatwork.com, where you can schedule a phone consultation with an attorney for a date and time that works best for you.
Kathy Harrington-Sullivan contributed to this blog post.