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Employers Contend with Parents’ Back-to-School Worries

As parents gear up for unprecedented challenges of how and whether to send their children back to school amid the Covid-19 pandemic, some employers are stepping up to help make the transition easier.

work from home 4987741 640Citigroup is offering its staff discounts towards test preparation and tutoring services as many of its employees continue working from home, Fortune reports. Sara Wechter, Citigroup’s head of human resources, says the firm also is assisting employees with finding educational caregivers who can oversee their children's online learning.

“I can’t believe it’s already time for back to school,” Wechter writes in a LinkedIn post. “I know that I’m not alone feeling some anxiety around balancing work and my children’s education.”

Bank of America, meanwhile, is expanding its backup childcare payments program for employees who have children as old as 12. Employees can receive daily reimbursements ranging from $75 to $100 for childcare expenses while they work at home or at the office until the end of the year. The bank is also offering online resources for employees to find childcare and virtual learning opportunities, and is offering to connect workers with discounted childcare and tutoring services.

“It’s going to be a very fluid situation” for working parents, CHRO Sheri Bronstein says in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “I had one of my own team say to me, ‘Gosh, I need a Ph.D to figure out when my four kids are going to school in the fall.’”

A potential bright spot for worried parents is how child care has become a bigger priority among employers since the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reports.These services “shifted from being viewed as a perk to being a critical need,” says Rachael McCann, a senior director at the human resources consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.

Some of California’s largest employers helped workers with distance learning when schools first shut down in the spring. But many of those efforts were seen as short-term with some initiatives having ended or being close to ending.

Employers need to be mindful that doing little or nothing to ease parents’ concerns can hurt their reputation with other workers, the Society For Human Resource Management reports.

"If the company is viewed as inflexible and unaccommodating to work-at-home parents, it can lead to negative employee morale," says Karen Roberts, HR director at Flaster Greenberg in Philadelphia. "The [employees'] concern is that it could happen to them, as well, [which causes] resentment of an increase in workload on others due to the loss of a team member, and the perception that the company is not supportive of its employees.”

While creating a COVID-19 friendly workplace that accommodates working parents’ needs may seem like a cost burden, such efforts will payoff, says Adam Gersh, employment law attorney at Flaster Greenberg. "With employees, like nearly everything else in business, success is predicated on doing things better than the competition," he says. ”Workplaces that are supportive, flexible, reasonable and accommodating will attract and retain top talent. Parents are often loyal and dedicated employees."

A SHRM survey of HR professionals from May 13 to May 20 found that only 32% of companies with a set return-to-work date have a childcare plan.

While U.S. companies overall had paid little attention to their employees’ child care needs prior to COVID-19, that quickly change with the pandemic, The Boston Globe reports. Some employers now give their workers flexible schedules, boost subsidies for childcare and even help them find sitters and tutors, These emergency measures to deal with the pandemic may end up becoming a fixture post COVID-19.

“This will change how employers, including us, think about child care as a support system, and we will need to decide what our approach will be,” says Matt Badger, a senior vice president of HR at Mass General Brigham. Mass General Brigham is Massachusetts’ biggest employer with about 78,000 workers.

Some companies may follow Google’s lead after the tech giant pushed its return-to-work in the office date all the way to July next year as they try to help employees who are schooling their children from home until at least through the fall, The Chicago Tribune reports. Uber is allowing its corporate staff to work from home until June next year, and giving them $500 for home office equipment.

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