Part 3: How will you handle employee circumstances surrounding childcare?
The circumstances under which workplaces will re-open remain unclear at this point, but it would be logical to assume that schools and daycares will re-open at the same time as the majority of workplaces. However, even if schools and daycares are open, you may have some employees who are worried about sending their children back to school for a variety or reasons including the safety of children with vulnerable health conditions. Your approach to each situation will depend on the details of the circumstance, however, follow these guiding principles below when deciding how to handle a specific situation.
A Fair Approach to Employee Childcare Obligations
Use a consistent approach for all employees. The rules need to be the same for everyone, however, where there are extenuating circumstances, provide exceptions and accommodations. For example, if schools and daycares are open and your position is that everyone must return to work at your physical workplace, but you have an employee with a child who is severely immunocompromised and has medical concerns about them returning to school, then it would be appropriate to allow that employee to continue to work from home.
Duty to accommodate Childcare Obligations
Family status is a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code. This means that employers cannot discriminate against employees based on family status and employers are required to accommodate issues of childcare up to undue hardship. That being said, employees cannot ask to be accommodated based on their childcare preferences. For example, if all employees are required to return to the workplace but there is an employee who would prefer to work from and home school their child, then that is not a situation that would meet the threshold of accommodation. When an employee is faced with a significant childcare problem that they are unable to resolve through their own means, then the employer will need to evaluate their responsibility to accommodate.
If the employer determines that they are required to accommodate an employee’s childcare obligations, then all parties need to understand that accommodation is a two-way street. Employees are required to “self-accommodate” and attempt to resolve the childcare problems through their own means if possible. The employee cannot demand the accommodation that they wish to have. At the same time, the employer must be understanding of the employee's needs.
Find more information about duty to accommodate childcare obligations here.
A Flexible Approach to Childcare Obligations
Over the past 2-3 months, your workforce might have successfully transitioned to working from home. Your managers have learned to trust their employees and to manage tasks rather than time spent at a desk. Evaluate employees’ experience and learn what changes you should consider making to your work from home policies. Send out an electronic survey before employees return to work. We've created a starting point for some questions you may want to ask.
Download our Employee Return To Work Survey.
Perhaps there are flexible arrangements that you can make for employees to meet their childcare obligations that do not impact the operations of the business. In the short term, it might help if some employees continue to work from home in order to comply with your new physical distancing policies and capacity limits at the office. We've created a return-to-work phase template to help!
Download our Return To Work Phase Template.
Set yourself up for success when considering what needs to happen within your workplace:
Part 1: How do Employees Come Back?
Part 2: Keeping Employee’s Safe Upon Return
Part 3: There will be Childcare Problems
Part 4: Navigating Employee Exposure Concerns
Part 5: Training Through a Pandemic