Currently, all eyes in Ontario are rightly focused on getting our children back to school in a safe and timely manner. Education in a safe setting is the priority, but once this is done, we must quickly turn to ensuring safe and healthy work environments for workers, including parents and caregivers.

We must start from the position that our school, family, and work environments are directly connected. How can we, as HR Professionals, offer insights and counsel to our organization with this starting principle in mind?

Opening schools poses endless questions and possible scenarios for Ontario’s workers who are also parents. Every family dynamic and composition is unique but when families are affected, so too will our workplaces. In order for families to feel safe and for us to ensure a successful reopening of the economy, we must ensure our organizations are as accommodating as possible.

Families currently face a number of possible scenarios:

  • Timelines for full time and blended learning environments
  • Balance of school schedules for different aged children
  • Special needs requirements for children
  • Family mix with immune-compromised or high-risk individuals
  • Unknown impacts of ‘wave 2’ or what happens when children are ill

Additionally, for organizations that employ large numbers of women, Indigenous, or People of Colour, or economically marginalized individuals, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that these populations have been disproportionally impacted during COVID-19 and are more likely to carry the burden of childcare.

For these reasons, as HR Professionals, we should not be asking ‘what will we do if we have an occupational exposure’ but rather ‘what will we do when we have an occupational exposure’.

HR professionals need to work diligently to ensure workplaces have the flexibility to support families with any number of these and other complications.  It is not to say that Ontario’s workplaces need to accommodate every issue, but rather that it is in their common interest to be open and flexible to any number of challenges.  Keeping talent is in their short and long-term best interests.

And it is the right thing to do.