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School’s Out for the Coronavirus

E-mployment Alert

Smart Summary

  • With schools once again switching to remote learning, the FFCRA is once again front of mind for business owners and HR managers.
  • Offering flexibility in telework and intermittent scheduling can help employers avoid having to grant FFCRA leave for working parents.
  • HR departments should monitor the reasons for requested leave because a company is only eligible for FFCRA tax credits for qualified leave.

“Out for summer, out ‘til fall, we might not come back at all.”

Franklin County is now listed as purple on Ohio’s COVID-19 map, and three more counties are approaching that level. Last week, the city of Columbus and Franklin County issued a Stay-At-Home Advisory “strongly advising” residents to stay home, not travel outside the state, and forego houseguests during the holiday season.

In light of these developments and the continued surge in cases, many Columbus-area schools are changing their learning models. Some (like Dublin, Reynoldsburg, and Worthington) have shifted to a full remote schedule for the rest of the year, while others are giving parents the option of in-person or remote learning.

But even though school may be out, it doesn’t mean employees have to be. We’ve outlined the FFCRA paid leave options here, here, and here, but as a reminder, parents who are unable to work due to a need to care for children who are at home due to school and daycare closures can qualify for up to 12 weeks of paid leave under the expanded FMLA and emergency paid sick leave provisions of the FFCRA. This leave is paid at ¾ of the employee’s regular rate.

As we move into this next phase and leave requests presumably increase, here are some key reminders for employers (with an assist from “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper).

1. “No more pencils, no more books.” (but Mom and Dad may still have to work)

Perhaps the most important exception to the paid leave requirements is outlined in the FFCRA itself. It specifies that parents must be unable to workincluding telework—due to the need to care for kids who are at home. This means that if you allow employees to work from home and/or on a flexible schedule, they may become ineligible for leave.

For example, if an employee has children who will be home and needs to help them periodically throughout the school day, you can instruct the employee work his/her usual number of hours, but on a flexible schedule and outside typical working hours. Then, they are able to work and leave is not necessary.

You could also allow the employee to take leave on an intermittent basis. In the example above, this might mean for only a couple of hours a day when the parent needs to help his/her children log on in the morning and in between Zoom sessions.

In short, being flexible may help keep your employees working and out of a twelve-week paid absence. While school may have “been blown to pieces,” it doesn’t mean your workforce should be too.

2. “If that don’t suit ya, that’s a drag.”

This past fall, the DOL updated it’s guidance on the applicability of FFCRA leave in anticipation of school closures and alternative schooling options. It specified that employees who chose to educate their children from home when the school gives them the choice of either online or in-person learning are ineligible for any form of paid leave. On the other hand, if the school mandates distance learning, whether on a hybrid schedule or full time, FFCRA leave is still available for the days children are at home.

As the DOL explained, when parents are given an option and choose to school their children at home, out of concern for contracting COVID-19 at school for example, the school isn’t “closed,” as is required for FFCRA benefits.

Given the different approaches taken by different school systems—and even different grades within the same school system—it will be important for HR departments to monitor the reasons for requested leave. Remember, your company is only eligible for FFCRA tax credits for qualified leave. 

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