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Grappling with childcare while working from home? How employers plan to help

Key Points
  • The pandemic has pushed working parents to their limits, as they juggle with the obligations of their job, childcare and remote learning.
  • Even as schools and daycare reopen, many are operating at lower capacities to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. That means parents are still caring for their kids during the workday.
  • Large employers are adapting to help employees meet those needs, including offering flexible hours and unpaid leave, according to data from Willis Towers Watson.
10'000 Hours

As employee benefits enrollment season rolls in, companies are weighing new ways to accommodate working parents.

About 4 out of 10 large companies polled by benefits consultancy Willis Towers Watson said they believe the programs they currently have in place do an effective job of supporting these employees.

The firm surveyed 553 U.S. employers, most of whom have at least 1,000 employees, on the week of Sept. 7.

"The reality is that employers have looked at a variety of tactics, considering the pandemic and closed schools," said Rachael McCann, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson.

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"In terms of back-up care, we're still seeing that only 30% of employers have something in place," she said.  

While all working parents are grappling with childcare and juggling their workplace responsibilities, the issue hits low-income families the hardest.

They're less likely to have work-from-home arrangements available to them: Less than a quarter of households with income below 250% of the federal poverty level can do at least some of their work remotely, according to data from the Urban Institute.

Employers know they could do a better job of supporting their workers.

To that end, 30% of the participating employers in the survey either expect to add access to back-up childcare or they're considering it.

Financial support where it's needed

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Some employers are looking at beefing up the subsidies they can provide to working parents.

For instance, just over 1 in 4 employers offer discounts or subsidies for childcare centers, tutoring and other educational resources, Willis Towers Watson found.

Another 22% of survey participants are thinking of adding this perk.    

Further, some employers offer workers access to a dependent care flexible spending account, which allows employeees to save up to $5,000 on a pretax basis and use the proceeds for preschool, daycare and after-school programs for kids under age 13.

Fewer than 2 in 10 employers currently contribute to their workers' accounts, according to Willis. However, 10% of firms are either considering or planning to put money in these dependent care FSAs.

A trade-off for flexibility

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Companies are also willing to offer parents flexible work hours, but this comes at a price.

About 3 out of 4 companies permit workers to take on a reduced schedule, according to Willis.

About half of these firms will allow workers to lower their working hours without reducing their benefits. Meanwhile, 76% of companies permit reduced hours at a reduced salary.

Only a tenth of the participating firms continue to provide full salary and benefits for less time on the job.

For now, employers are pointing workers toward available paid-time off and vacation days as an option they can use to manage their caregiving responsibilities, Willis Towers Watson found.

More than half also offer unpaid leave with job protection as an option, while 26% give workers paid caregiver leave.

"We've seen an evolution of emphasis on time off that's already available, including using available paid-time off days," said McCann.

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