School is already back in session for many kids across the nation—and more students will be going back to school over the next few weeks. Depending on the method of schooling chosen by the local school district, be it all in-person instruction, all virtual learning, a mix of the two through a hybrid classroom experience, or other means, employers should adapt their company policies to support their employees coping with this new set of challenges as parents. Here are some ways that employers can assist working parents in their companies with adjusting to a new back-to-school setting:
Robust Reimbursement Program for Childcare
With many companies letting their employees work on site these days and some schools requiring students to stay home all or part of the time due to virtual learning or alternating schedules, the need for proper childcare has never been more apparent. To help with this, employers should develop new childcare reimbursement programs or they should improve any existing childcare programs. For instance, at Prime Trust, we instituted the following childcare reimbursement program—
- The company will reimburse daycare, childcare, private schooling, or whatever other reasonable costs necessary to enable our employees to continue working without impacting their children’s learning or well-being.
# For the purposes of this policy, “reasonable costs” are defined as either:
– The costs associated with daycare or childcare; similar costs for charter schools as well as Catholic, Jewish, or other schools
– Partial reimbursement for elite, more expensive schools
– No reimbursement for boarding schools
- There is no limit to how many kids employees can seek reimbursement for, but if the kids are old enough to stay home alone and look after themselves, then this policy is not applicable; of course, if the child has special needs despite an older age, Human Resources can work out a plan to allow for the proper assistance through this reimbursement program
- Proof of the childcare must be provided to receive the reimbursement. An example of acceptable proof would be an invoice from a licensed childcare center or school. Our policy is for on-site care only; it excludes all home-learning programs.
With childcare reimbursement programs like this in place, employees will be able to focus on their work with the peace of mind that their kids are well taken care of during this challenging time.
Improved and Expanded Health Benefits
Some minor improvements to health care coverage can go a long way toward boosting morale and keeping your employees healthy. For example, expanding all health care coverage to every employee and all their family members, waiving additional fees for the additional family members, will keep employees and their families safe during the pandemic, which will be especially helpful in case their kids are going back to in-person classes, risking possible exposure to the virus and spreading of it back home. Policies should also be in place for healthcare coverage and other support if your employee contracts the COVID-19 or must care for a sick child due to the virus.
If Working from Home, Exact Duplication of Office Environment
Especially if the school district wants all learning to be done from home, and provided you are willing to allow your employees to work from home, you need to work hard at creating a home office as close to the actual workplace environment as possible. This includes all the exact same equipment and setup—
- Monitor (even dual monitors if required for the job)
- Computer (more than one, or laptop, desktop, and tablets, if also required for the job)
- Keyboard and mouse
- Phone (both hardline and cell if needed for the job)
- High-speed Internet (reimburse them if their regular Internet connection is not strong enough for their work)
Exactly duplicating the office at home will help keep your employees organized and on task despite having to keep an eye on their homeschooled kids if necessary.
Standard Operating Procedures for Every Role to Help with Cross-Training
If students are heading back to school in person, there is the possibility of more exposure to the virus and spreading of it back home. This means that your employees or their family might risk contracting COVID-19, which depending on the severity of the case, could put your employee out of commission for a few weeks or more until they recover the strength and health to work again. The same could happen if they are tasked with caring for their child or other family members.
This means that every employee in each department needs at least one person cross-trained on the responsibilities associated with their role within the company. Ideally, it is best for an entire department to be cross-trained with each other to keep things afloat should any employee, as indispensable as they might be, face health concerns with themselves or their families as a result of COVID-19 during back to school.
To better enable such cross-training, every position should have well-documented standard operating procedures so that just about anyone can jump in at the last minute to help the team fill in for the affected employees on a limited basis.
The Takeaway: This Is the “New Cost of Doing Business”
Adjusting to the “new normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly accentuated by the challenges working parents must overcome as their children head back to school. To maintain business functions, companies must consider adapting to the “new normal” by accepting the “new cost of doing business,” which is the added expenses of maintaining programs like robust childcare reimbursements and improved healthcare coverage. Businesses should no longer look at such expenses as temporary; they must see these expenses as perpetual. Recent reductions in travel, dining, marketing, and other expenses caused by the pandemic will help offset this “new cost of doing business.”
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