Preparing for Kids to Go Back to School During COVID-19

As an employer, you must be ready to face the same challenges that many members of the workforce are facing…children returning to school! It is likely that there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases within schools, so how are you prepared to support your staff if they need to take time off for childcare reasons? What leaves are employees eligible for?
Any available childcare leave in Canada is regulated on a provincial or territorial region. Here are some examples of the legislation currently in place for our most highly populated provinces.
British Columbia – Learn MoreAlberta – Learn MoreSaskatchewan – Learn MoreManitoba – Learn More Ontario – Learn MoreQuebec – Learn More
Many schools are following a hybrid learning approach in order to lessen the number of students in each school at any given time. This means that employees may require a work schedule that is slightly different from their previous regular schedule. Work with your team, talk to each employee individually, and determine if there are any major scheduling issues that need to be worked out. You never know when you will have two employees with completely opposing schedules that you could create a temporary job-sharing role for them. 
Check out more job/work sharing resources in Canada here:
In some cases, employees may have the option to choose to keep their children home and attend school via online or homeschooling options. In this case, employees would not be eligible for any income assistance because they are choosing to leave work, on an unpaid leave of absence, due to their own preferences to keep their children home from available school. 
Employees are only eligible for government subsidies when children are home from school if the available childcare or schools have closed for a period of time-related to COVID-19.
Employees should complete a leave of absence request form which states the initial date of the leave and the approximate or intended date of return from the leave. If a medical officer has issued a self-isolation or quarantine for an employee, you should keep a record of this with their leave form. 
If an employee must take a leave due to childcare/school closures, document the date of the school closure and keep in contact with the employee and/or the school to determine approximate school reopening dates. 
After you have approved a leave of absence you will likely be required to provide the employee with a Record of Employment so that they may apply for Employment Insurance, or for other government subsidies, if applicable to their individual situation. 
As always, managing your employees is full of grey areas and legislation that requires further interpretation. An HR consultant will be able to guide you through this constantly changing legislation so that you are prepared to support your team to the best of your capabilities, while also remaining compliant with all of the regulations in place at any given time. 

● Proactively communicate with employees        o Communicating with your team has never been more important than it is right now. When making any changes to the daily operations of your office you want to give your team something called "practicable notice" aka, giving your team as much notice as possible of any changes.         o If you need to close the office due to a COVID-19 outbreak, there isn't a lot of time to notify your team and patients. Realistically you want to just do the best you can here. But when you're recalling your team you need to keep them in the loop on what is happening. Even if it's an informal phone call to just let them know that the status of reopening hasn't changed. If you have a potential reopening timeline, you can let your team in on the process but continue to reiterate that the situation is fluid therefore nothing is set in stone.         o Work with your team so that they have all of the information possible to start taking care of their personal arrangements (child-care, elder-care, etc.)        o Give your employees your time and your attention so that they feel heard and that they are able to bring their ideas and concerns to you as a leader

● Be flexible, when and wherever possible      o The personal situations of each of your team members is going to be drastically different based on their home life. If they have an immunocompromised family member living in their house, they might need some accommodations made in the workplace to support their work-life balance at this point in time.      o If admin staff are able to do some work from home, initiate flexible or remote working agreements to facilitate this telework option while also maintaining high standards of patient information protection. Your staff working out of the office will need to create a virtual private network in order to maintain high privacy standards.      o Staggering start/end times and breaks can also be a great way to maximize the efficiency of your practice while also limiting the number of employees gathered to any single spot within the practice. Talk with your team and find out what options you have available for staggered starts and work schedules. This will take some time to get used to, but the benefits can be much larger in the long run!
● Review leave policies and obligations      o With kids going back to school, it is highly probable that there will be times when an employee needs to be off of work to fulfill their childcare obligations based on unpredictable emergencies popping up.      o Communicate with your team regarding your leave policies and let them know what types of paid time off they have available to use within the calendar year.       o Create your contingency plan so that you are prepared to run in a leaner fashion for a period of time if necessary      o Also, what is your protocol for if an employee's child or spouse is sick? What if the employee's child or spouse was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19? What if the employee's child or spouse was in close contact with someone who is sick but has not received a COVID-19 test result yet? What if an employee's child care center/school has to shut down for a period of time? Having clear guidelines for these situations will help to alleviate some of the stress associated with this already stressful situation and will make it a part of your everyday routine.       o Just like integrating any new policy or procedure into your practice, it takes time, dedication, patience, and consistency and then over time, it becomes just a part of your day to day operations.