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How COVID-19 Has Shifted the Way Employers Treat Leave

Flexible work policies, which were already trending upward, have seen significant changes in response to COVID-19. As policies expand, greater flexibility will not only assist U.S. workers, but could even shift the way their organizations think about flexibility — and benefits broadly — in the months and years to come. 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) — the world’s largest HR association — here talks about how these forces are reshaping the world of work. 

Johnny C. Taylor

President and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Will COVID-19 lead to meaningful change when it comes to supporting caregivers in the workforce?

Caregivers could find themselves in luck. As we all probably realize, COVID-19 forced employers to radically reimagine the workplace and transform it, quite literally, overnight. Now that it’s in the past, it loses some luster, but we really shouldn’t forget how monumental and shocking that was in the early stages of extreme uncertainty. Everything changed. 

And while flexible work has been on the rise for years now, this has catalyzed that pre-existing trend and, perhaps more importantly, shown that flexible work can be productive, too. In other words, I don’t think we will see this trend reverse. The future will be flexible and what we’ve seen so far bodes well for caregivers. 

In fact, SHRM research shows that, due to COVID-19, 68 percent of organizations plan to adopt more flexible work-from-home policies. And nearly 6 in 10 will handle childcare accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis. 

How exactly have things changed?

Organizations have tasked HR with revisiting leave policies and working on paid leave programs that meet and harmonize the needs of the employer and its employees. 

Now, what does that mean for caregivers? According to SHRM research, nearly 20 percent of organizations are offering additional paid time off to working parents or employees with caregiving responsibilities, while 13 percent are offering additional unpaid time. 

What are the options for caregivers? 

Some employers have introduced COVID-19-related leave policies, which provide time off as needed to care for the sick or elderly. Notably, employees aren’t the only winners here. Such benefits are, undeniably, beneficial for employers, too — they help attract talent (58 percent), retain talent (55 percent), and drive employee engagement (60 percent).

SHRM research also shows the majority of HR professionals (60 percent) report offering more flexible scheduling to working parents or employees with caregiving responsibilities as a result of COVID-19. 

That’s speaking generally, though. If an employee is wondering what their options are, they should ask HR  and let their caregiving duties be known — and sooner is better than later! 

Do options differ based on type of care? 

Know your rights as a caregiver. Leave options do vary but the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has been expanded until the end of the year — which may change as the deadline approaches. FMLA regularly covers health conditions. The expanded FMLA, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, extends to childcare — as well as to those suffering from or caring for someone with COVID-19. 

What do you believe will be the lasting impact?

Policy won’t just reset in 2021 — we are navigating a shift in the workplace. I expect employers to make modifications based on employee experiences. There will likely be further changes — perhaps even legal or regulator — to paid leave programs. And new elements of leave programs may help us be better prepared for the unforeseen in the future.

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