Balancing ‘Work From Home’ and Family

September 22, 2020

It’s safe to say our nation is in uncharted territory when contemplating how to establish a work-life balance while homeschooling and caring for children, keeping up with the demands of “work from home,” and facing an unknown future. Fortunately, many people have had access to the necessary technology to work from home. Unfortunately, there is no handbook on how to balance employment with childcare and educational needs.

Early Days of the Pandemic

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, school and daycare closures appeared to be temporary. Without substantial time to determine the best practice for holding classes, teachers, administrators, and parents did their best to keep children engaged and educated. The closures extended to the end of the school year with optimism that the summer months would bring better news. Yet here we sit as school districts determine plans for the fall. Some schools have reopened, while others are developing strategies for virtual learning.

Before COVID-19, many employers didn’t have a work-from-home policy, or their policy didn’t contemplate continued need for child care or homeschooling. How could it? A pandemic of this nature and a veritable shutdown of schools hadn’t been contemplated in the modern era. This is why an existing policy may ban caring for a child while working from home. No matter what a work-from-home policy states, it should be reassessed to determine whether it truly meets the needs of both employer and employee.

New Normal?

Employers now ask themselves: How do our employees work and homeschool their children? Many children are receiving instruction through video conferencing, but others are not. The reality is that school and daycare allow parents the opportunity to exercise uninterrupted work time. Homeschooling allows for some independent study, but the impetus of care is put on the parent.

Can parents give the necessary attention to their occupational tasks while overseeing their children’s care and education? Some employers say no. Recent national news stories have highlighted the reinstatement of work-from-home policies that explicitly state an employee cannot provide child care while working at home. With schools and most childcare facilities closed, what options does that leave?

Are Such Policies Realistic?

The idea that employees might suddenly be required to make other childcare arrangements has led to an immediate backlash. If parents are able to obtain outside child care, should they be required to engage it? That is another question without an answer. With the number of positive COVID-19 cases rising, what is the best option?

Many states have instituted mask policies and continue to encourage social distancing. By having strict work-from-home policies, many parents may feel they have no other choice than to enroll their children in a facility outside the home. In doing so, that could make them and other family members vulnerable to being exposed to COVID-19.

With no end in sight, you need to take a realistic approach to your implementation of work-from-home policies. You should be aware of the struggle your employees face. The key issue is communication between employers and employees. Meeting parental responsibilities and work obligations may be different for each employee based on their specific situation. By taking a proactive approach, you may prevent backlash to your own work-from-home policy. In this day and age of social media, a bad policy could result in significant negative attention to the employer.

Bottom Line

Flexibility is key. It’s time to take unorthodox approaches, such as shifting meetings to early in the day or after hours. The phrase “work smarter, not harder” is especially relevant today. There’s no longer a “one size fits all” way to do business. This is the time and opportunity to find out how best to run your company while enabling employees to keep their jobs and parent their children.
Rather than approach “work from home” as an obstacle for employees, it may be best approached as an opportunity to redefine the way business can be accomplished.

This article, slightly modified to note recent updates, was featured in the September issue of the Great Lakes Employment Law Letter and published by BLR®—Business & Legal Resources. Reproduced here with the permission of BLR®—Business & Legal Resources.