On July 23, 2020, the CDC issued guidance for K-12 school administrators to safely return to school in the fall of 2020. The CDC update is expressly intended as an aid for these administrators “as they consider how to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, other school staff, their families and communities.” But the guidance may also highlight important issues that employers may be forced to consider as the fall school season approaches.
While some employees will have more flexibility or availability as school resumes, reopening may not provide the relief some employers have hoped for. Employees with school-aged children may be less occupied with homeschooling or taking care of their children but will likely still face challenges. This may include employees having to care for children who contract COVID-19 (and those children potentially passing it to the employees), or children who become ill with things like the common cold but are forced to remain home from school longer than they would in a pre-pandemic world because of new health and safety protocols. Schools may also open in phases, blocks, or “cohorts,” requiring employees to care for their children at varied hours. And, some schools may opt to be completely “virtual”—meaning that parents will have school-aged children at home, learning via videoconferencing technologies.
Any of these issues may result in some employers needing to offer employees paid time off under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. Perkins Coie’s Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) Employment Flowcharts are designed to help employers navigate issues arising from the FFCRA. As the CDC points out, “[s]chools play a vital role in the economic health of communities by . . . helping parents, guardians and caregivers work”; however, schools reopening may not offer the immediate or seamless reprieve that some employers may expect. It may be prudent for employers to start planning for contingencies now.