Due to the worldwide pandemic, this fall many schools are operating differently than they have in previous years with some schools operating fully in person, some fully remote, some a combination of the two, and some giving parents the choice between in person and remote learning. Employers may need to provide flexibility to their employees who have school aged children based on the operations of their child(ren)’s school.
Employers with less than 500 employees may be required to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of leave to care for their child in the form of emergency FMLA now required under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). This emergency FMLA requires covered employers to provide employees with 2/3 of their regular pay for the duration of their leave (a maximum of 12 weeks). Note: This pay is reimbursed to employers in the form of a payroll tax credit. More details about the FFCRA are available here: Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has recently provided some clarification as to when the emergency FMLA leave under the FFCRA applies based on the way an employee’s child’s school is operating.
Schools Operating Completely In Person
When schools are operating with full time in person instruction, parent employees are not eligible for any emergency FMLA under the FFCRA for childcare reasons.
Schools Operating In A Full Virtual Setting
When schools are operating completely virtually/remotely with no in person instruction, an employee may be eligible for emergency FMLA leave and up to 2/3 of their regular pay for up to 12 weeks (or until the child can return to in person schooling).
Schools Operating In a Hybrid Model (Part In Person / Part Virtual Learning)
When schools are operating in a hybrid model where students report in person for learning some days and other days do remote learning, employees are only eligible for emergency FMLA leave on the days that the child is required to do remote learning and is unable to physically attend school for face to face instruction. On the days the employee is physically in school, the employee should be able to work as scheduled.
Schools Offering Parent Choice Between In Person and Virtual Learning
When schools are allowing parents to chose whether they send their children to school for in person instruction or keep them home for virtual or remote learning, an employee would not be eligible for emergency FMLA leave regardless of which option they choose for their student. This is because the school is “open” for in person learning and therefore the employee’s child (or children) has the opportunity to attend school in person so that the employee can return to work.
There may be an exception to this under the regular FMLA (for companies with 50 or more employees) if a child has a health condition that would require them to not attend school and would require the employee/parent to stay home to care for the child. This would not be covered under the FFCRA however and would not require the employee to be paid for this time off.
The FFCRA was passed in March, so some employees may have already used some or all of their 12 week allowance. For example, if an employee took 6 weeks off in the spring to care for their child (or children) who’s school closed due to COVID-19, they would only have 6 more weeks available now.
Employers should have employees sign a statement confirming that their child does not have an option to attend in person schooling and therefore the employee is unable to work because no other childcare options exist due to the school closure.