Employer Do’s and Don’ts for Back to School Time

It’s that time once again in many parts of the country – time to put away the sunscreen and beach chairs, pack up those backpacks, get those school lunches together and start those carpools as its time to head back to school.

However, back-to-school time can present a number of challenges for employers as employees attempt to balance work and family obligations. Here are some dos and don’ts for employers when it comes to back-to-school time.

 

Don’t Discriminate Based on Family Responsibilities

Remember that it is unlawful under federal, state and local law to discriminate against employees or applicants and treat them unfairly based on their family responsibilities, including:

• Providing caregivers with less favorable assignments;
• Denying caregivers promotion;
• Stereotyping caregivers as not committed to their jobs; or
• Discriminating against caregivers working part-time jobs or reduced schedules.

To prevent family responsibility discrimination, develop, implement and enforce polices prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation against caregivers and ensure that caregivers receive fair and equal treatment. Also, make sure to respond to complaints of caregiver discrimination and promptly investigate them, taking corrective action and imposing discipline if needed.

Do Take Leave Requests Seriously

Employers need to be aware of state and local leave laws that allow employees to take leave for school-related reasons such as attending parent-teacher conferences, addressing behavioral or disciplinary problems, participating in classroom activities and even attending school sporting events and performances.  Additionally, employers should be aware that an opinion letter from the US Department of Labor provides that employees may take intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend special education meetings to discuss their children’s individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

For example, numerous states require or encourage employers to provide employees with short-term, unpaid, job-protected leave so that they may participate in school-related activities. In addition, various state and local paid sick leave laws extend to absences for school and day care closures for certain reasons, such as public health or weather emergencies.

To comply, an employer may want to include a policy relating to time off for school visitation and activities in its employee handbook or reference time off for school activities as one of the uses of paid time off (PTO).

Don’t Write Off Nontraditional Work Arrangements

Because of developments in technology and communications, in many industries it is possible for employees to take advantage of non-traditional work arrangements such as flex time, part-time work, job shares or telecommuting. These arrangements may help employees balance work and family obligations as well as enhance employee morale, engagement and productivity.

Therefore, employers should try to coordinate with employees to find a work schedule that meets both the employer’s and the employee’s needs. However, it is important to be clear about the employer’s expectations and document any agreements or arrangements entered into with respect to reduced hours, telecommuting, adjusted work schedules, etc.

Employers also should make sure to comply with wage and hour laws and pay employees for all hours worked by clearly defining the workday and the employer’s expectations.

Do Consider Providing Family-Friendly Benefits

Consider providing benefits to employees that can aid working parents as they attempt to manage work and family obligations and maintain a healthy lifestyle. These benefits may also help the workplace in several under-the-radar ways by improving employee engagement, retention, morale and reducing stress. Benefits may include:

• Dependent care benefits and subsidies that compensate employees for the costs of child care;
• Backup child care resources and on-demand sitters;
• On-site child care centers;
• Access to mental health counselors and employee assistance programs;
• Wellness resources such as nutrition counseling and gym memberships; and
• Leave-related benefits (i.e., parental and medical leave, paid sick days, vacation days and paid time off).

Do Take Note of Predictable Scheduling Laws

Employers should take note that a growing number of predictable scheduling laws on the state and local level directly affect working parents with respect to child care, school schedules and transition needs, and should try to provide increased stability when it comes to work schedules.

These laws may require employers to:

• Provide employees with advance notice of schedules (often two to four weeks);
• Compensate employees with predictability pay if changes are made within this window, unless employees have requested changes in their schedule;
• Provide employees with a good-faith estimate of how many hours will actually be worked and if any on-call time is necessary;
• End the practice of clopenings, in which employees are required to work a late night shift followed by an early morning shift or back-to-back shifts without adequate rest in between;
• Provide employees additional compensation for clopenings or back-to-back shifts;
• Allow employees to request to work certain hours or schedules and in certain locations, and require that employers engage in the interactive process with employees and discuss these requests in good faith; and/or
• Offer additional shifts to existing employees before seeking to hire new employees.

HR and supervisors on the front lines must be aware if they are operating in a jurisdiction with a predictable scheduling law and comply with their legal obligations.

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