United States: 'School's Out!' Means More Free Time For Kids, But None For Working Parents. Here Is Help For Employers Managing The Fallout

As our nation's built-in babysitters close shop for the next three months, the bulk of our nation's workforce braces for the barrage of new summer stressors, including: the uncertain reliability of teenage babysitters needed to cover 7-8 extra childcare hours per day; the effective imposition of second full-time job duties at home, with predictably unpredictable hours; and, for many, the summertime onset of "work-life imbalance malaise."

These summertime stressors also cause angst for employers. Employees' additional responsibilities at home invariably mean spikes in last-minute employee requests for "emergency" sick leave, attempts to "take off" early, and other impromptu absenteeism issues. All this can be incredibly disruptive to an employer's normal business operations. Here are three tips to help maximize a smoother summer transition in your workplace:

1. Promote Greater Work-Life Balance

Not surprisingly, studies show that healthier work-life balance leads to healthier and happier employees. Also gaining widespread acceptance is that happier employees make better employees:

  • Employers that promote work-life balance for their workers report statistically higher rates of attendance, productivity, satisfaction, and long-term retention – as well as statistically lower rates of absenteeism, workplace mistakes and accidents, and ultimate turnover. See, e.g., A Report on the Importance of Work-Life Balance.

If promoting work-life balance is not already a part of your company's culture, or even if it is, the coming summer months are the perfect time to try to make it so – or more so. Here are two ideas on how:

  • Consider implementing a "Summer Friday" policy that allows employees to leave work an hour early. The policy will surely boost employee morale, and it may just lead to a more productive Monday morning. (And how productive, really, are employees between 4 and 5 on summertime Friday afternoons?)
  • Consider offering greater flexibility for employees to work at home during the summer months, or to make up lost Mon-Fri time with weekend work. The increased flexibility will allow employees to tackle issues at home without compromising their work productivity. For instance, a baby-sitter's unexpected cancellation may morph from a complete fiasco to a simple work-at-home day for Dad. Or, Mom may welcome a once-weekly opportunity to spend the lunch hour with her child. Both just may lead to your employees feeling more satisfied with their jobs and more loyal to you as an employer.

    • In addition, when problems arise (little Susie's camp play), employers will not be left dealing with unexpected absences or missed deadlines. Instead, employers can encourage employees to use additional work-at-home days to get their jobs done remotely while still meeting their family obligations.

2. Avoid Gender Stereotyping

Promoting work-life balance for your employees should be gender-blind. Both male and female employees should be encouraged to take advantage of family-friendly work schedules and flexibility. Not doing so could expose you to potential liability for discrimination and also could isolate and discourage employees of both genders. One recent University of Oregon study, Men, Fathers, and Work-Life Balance, offers a thorough, informative explanation on why. See here.

3. Understand All Applicable State and Local Sick Leave Laws

Finally, although you should already be aware of sick-leave laws in all jurisdictions where you operate, it is particularly critical now that you review and fully understand those laws. There has been a flood of sick-leave laws passed by states and municipalities throughout the country over the past few years (together, Local Laws). Ensuring your full understanding of all applicable Local Laws will help you plan for the potential surge in employee sick-day requests during the coming summer months. Most of these Local Laws grant rights to employees that go far beyond those provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other federal statutes – including that many Local Laws grant employees the right to use employer-provided sick leave not only for their own illnesses, but also to care for a sick family member (a conundrum that may be minimized by offering more flexible work-from-home options, as discussed above).

  • If you have any questions about what is required under particular Local Laws on employee sick leave rights, it is important to consult with knowledgeable counsel in advance and then ensure that local supervisors and human resources managers are fully informed about and well trained in their obligations – in advance of being required to respond "on the spot" to specific employee sick leave requests.

Conclusion

The new summer demands placed on your employees undoubtedly have the potential to derail normal business scheduling processes, as well as to jeopardize workplace productivity overall. But with a little advance planning – including being willing to expand workers' flexibility for the season, ensuring equal treatment to male and female employees alike, and commanding the nuances of Local sick-leave Laws – you can minimize potential summer pitfalls and maximize your prospects for protecting both workers' professional productivity and their family stability. The unexpected upside may even be a healthier, happier, and better workforce that reaps benefits for your organization into the fall, winter and beyond.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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