Lend your caregivers a hand during the COVID-19 crisis

Here's how employers can help families.

According to a World Health Organization report, men are more likely than women to become sick with COVID-19.

But unlike recent recessions, in which men suffered the most job losses, the economic impact of COVID-19 seems to be disproportionately affecting women. More women than men are losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

This appears to be happening because women make up the majority of employees in the hospitality and leisure sectors, which have been hit hard during the pandemic. According to CNN Business, employment in leisure and hospitality has plummeted by 7.7 million jobs, or 47 percent.

In April, the unemployment rate for women was 15.5 percent, compared with 13 percent for men. These rates are alarming enough, but they were even higher for African-American women (16.4 percent) and Hispanic women (20.2 percent). 

Among those who still have jobs, the responsibility for dealing with school closures and illness still falls more heavily on women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the pandemic, women in the United States spent an average of more than two hours on household chores and almost an hour caring for others each day. Men spent on average less time on each, but spent more time than women on work-related activities, and leisure and sports. A report issued in April by the University of Utah indicates that, since the pandemic started, more women than men are taking primary responsibility for child care, housework, and home schooling.

As many places of employment are now starting to reopen, employers need to consider ways to support mothers and fathers who are struggling with fulfilling their job responsibilities while also seeing that their children or other family members get the care that they need. Presumably, most -- if not all --  employers know that they need to be aware of applicable laws requiring paid leave, unpaid leave, and accommodations to employees with caregiving responsibilities. Private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees, and virtually all public sector employers, must comply with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Employers are also no doubt aware of laws prohibiting discrimination. By all means, comply with the law. But here are some things that employers can do from a more positive standpoint:

  • Be as generous as possible in interpreting your leave and paid time off policies. If your company is covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, then comply with that, but even if it isn't covered, consider temporarily amending your policies to allow for some type of paid leave for coronavirus-related reasons. If you already offer generous paid leave or PTO as a matter of policy, give your employees the benefit of the doubt when interpreting your policies so that they can get as much leave as they legitimately need.
  • If the work can be done remotely, then allow the work to be done remotely. We are hearing of some managers who just don't like the idea of having employees work from home and are not allowing it -- not even now. But the ability to work from home can be a godsend to employees whose children have no school for the next three months (or possibly longer). Of course, many jobs have to be performed on site, but don't prohibit remote work just because you think "face time" is better.
  • Be flexible with those who may need to take "caregiver breaks" during the standard work day. 
  • Don't stereotype. Don't assume that parents who still have kids at home are less productive than single people, or very young or older workers. Even if your parent-employee needs to take a few hours off in the afternoon to help a child with her schooling, she may be working until midnight to make up for it.  
  • Remember that nothing has to be forever. You can make some exceptions to your usual policies and practices for this unprecedented situation we are in, and then when things return to normal, suspend or revoke those exceptions. For example, if the work can be done remotely but face time is really important to you, allow remote work during this crisis, but know that you can return to your "on-site" policy when it's over. (Just be sure to give your employees plenty of notice before you return to the old policy.)

A little extra flexibility and leniency during these difficult times is one of the best things an employer can offer to its work force.

We recognize the immeasurable value of women leaders supporting other women in the workplace through example, mentorship, education and empathy. We hope you enjoy our tidbits of legal and practical information, wisdom, and humor. Thanks for joining the conversation! 
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