Well, here we go. We have found the worst policy to come out of higher ed during a pandemic. (Although, this working mom points out it would have also been awful during The Before.) Behold: Florida State University bans parenting during remote working.
Now, before I tear this apart: I’ve seen a couple of different explanations of how this unfolded (none of which is anything but outrage- & what-the-hell-worthy!).
But one explanation was that it’s just a reminder of their regular telecommuting policy that requires parents who are working from home to have childcare. My employer actually has that exact same policy; they just haven’t taken the cruel step to remind us of it during a bleeping pandemic, when already stressed-to-the-max parents have no alternative. The other explanation I’ve seen is that the story is misunderstood. That this policy applies only to staff…and only to staff who cannot do their jobs remotely.
No matter how many explanations FSU offers, outrage and condemnation remain the lasting impression of this news. And that’s no surprise, and in fact, deserved.
But here’s the thing.
Now, while we can all agree that nobody can get safe childcare right now and that this announcement couldn’t have been handled or timed worse….what I don’t see anyone talking about is how do we expect higher ed employers to handle this as the pandemic continues unabated, long-term?
Before you think I have any answer: I don’t. And neither does anyone else. In fact, a viral New York Times story from yesterday did a good job of summing up the issue: In the Covid economy, you can have a job or be a parent. Pick one.
Parents like me can advocate. And we should, and loudly. And often. Especially those of us with sufficient career capital to push back on behalf of younger and less experienced peers and colleagues.
And employers can continue to operate with grace and patience and tolerance. But for how long do we expect them to do that, as higher eds hemorrhage money and incur increasing costs?
My employer has from the beginning made all kinds of flexibility available to parents. The work week is now all inclusive – any shift, whatever works. Told managers to look only for outputs, not hours at desk. Operate with empathy. Accommodate missed deadlines, slipping productivity. And worst case scenario – your tasks cannot be done from home? Can you do these other kinds of tasks? Then do those instead.
Then they came up with a new timesheet entry and I started to get suspicious. We were told: if you need to take hours for parenting, no problem. Just report those using a new time code on your time sheet. You won’t be docked any time off, you won’t be docked any pay. Just wanting to measure what parents are able to do. We never got a clear explanation other than: we just need some way to measure the impact of the pandemic on our workforce.
Well, folks, even that “just check parenting hours on your timesheet” era has come to an end. Those parenting hours are going away in 3 weeks. Employees who are full-time who are also parenting…must then start taking Families First Covid Response Act hours (FFCRA) leave.
This is basically buried in the fine print of our return to work guidance. Barely mentioned in the required official return to work training. And I’m discovering most of my colleagues in other units haven’t even been told this.
FFCRA is all fine and good in theory. It provides up to 12 weeks of leave for caregiving due to the daycares and school closures. It protects your job during that time. It gives you your benefits…and a stairstep down in pay over the 12 weeks.
Most of us can already see problems there, as it’s far from a perfect solution. It does only the bare minimum, and for not nearly long enough. And it’s up to individual universities & colleges to figure out how they implement & who is eligible for FFCRA. So: am I supposed to start paying less and less of my bills over time? And what happens after 12 weeks?
After 12 weeks, magical wand waving and Coronavirus is gone? It’ll suddenly be perfectly safe for all to return to in-person schools, daycares, day camps, so staff can get back to full-time regular work hours? What about how many school districts are planning on A/B cohorts, or half days, (and that’s only if we are allowed to go in person)?
I’ve been asked to commit to my in-person, in-office schedule that I’m supposed to return to in 3 weeks. As a person with 19 years work experience in higher ed, working a knowledge desk job. Having proven my ability to continue to kick ass while remote, and now while remote WHILE PARENTING. As the only parent on my team. So I can’t imagine how it’s going for cashiers, groundskeepers, housing staff, financial aid, and anyone else on campus whose job requires them to be physically present, and who doesn’t have nearly the career capital I do.
Employers are looking at parents, parents are looking at schools, schools are looking at the CDC and WHO and frankly, other countries’ models which don’t apply well to the USA because of deep cultural differences. And round and round we go.