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FAQs: Childcare, employment questions answered as parents get ready to head back to work

HOUSTON – Neha Smith is a working mother with questions as Texas begins to reopen certain businesses.

“Is it safe," she asks, and “How are we going to make it?”

These are just some of the questions working parents are asking as employers get ready to ask workers to get back to work. Sidd Rao, a partner and employment attorney at the firm Shellist Lazarz Slobin LLP, says it’s the number one topic he’s been getting calls on.

The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” or FFCRA, that was passed on March 18, addressed several family issues related to COVID-19. It requires employers to provide up to 10 days of paid sick leave for your care or for another who has coronavirus or if you are quarantining, or if you need to care for children because their place of care or school has been closed because of coronavirus.

“That employer cannot retaliate against you or fire you for requesting that leave,” Rao said.

There is also the CARES Act that protects employees of small businesses, those with fewer than 500 employees. So millions of people who work for larger companies aren’t eligible for those protections. That’s something Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office is aware of and working on right now. We also asked Texas Health and Human Services about this, and a spokesman said:

“Based on the new Governor’s Executive Order E-18, child care operations may remain open only to serve children whose parent is considered an essential employee.”

So right now, the governor’s announcement on Monday pertaining to businesses reopening on Friday doesn’t change the requirement that parents must certify that they work in an essential industry.

We did find one school district that is helping its parents. Fort Bend Independent School District announced it was extending its day program at campuses next Wednesday. We reached out to other school districts and didn’t find any that were offering the same program.

So the bottom line is if you work for a company that has fewer than 500 employees, you have some protection when it comes to deciding whether to return to your workplace or stay at home to take care of your children. For employees of companies with more than 500 employees, there are fewer protections at this time.

KPRC 2 also learned that people who are currently unemployed and cannot accept new employment due to childcare issues will continue to receive unemployment benefits.

We also asked Rao other common employment questions:

Q: What is my employer allowed to do?

A: Generally speaking, your employer is not allowed to discriminate against, retaliate against, or terminate you for engaging in protected activity. You should consult an employment attorney to determine if you engaged in protected activity. However, your employer may take actions that negatively affect you based on if your worksite closes for lack of business or because your employer was required to close pursuant to a federal, state or local directive, or because your position no longer exists due to economic or operating conditions that affect employment and due to COVID-19-related reason.

Q: Is my employer allowed to furlough me?

A: Your employer may furlough you if your worksite closes for lack of business or because your employer was required to close pursuant to a federal, state or local directive, or because your position no longer exists due to economic or operating conditions that affect employment and due to COVID-19-related reason.

Q: Are they allowed to lay me off?

A: Your employer may lay you off if your worksite closes for lack of business or because your employer was required to close pursuant to a federal, state or local directive, or because your position no longer exists due to economic or operating conditions that affect employment and due to COVID-19-related reason.

Q: Can my pay be cut?

A: Your pay may be cut due to economic or operating conditions that affect employment and due to COVID-19-related reasons.

Q: What if I need to leave?

A: You may be able to request leave under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act if your employer employs less than 500 employees, or under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if you or a close family member contracts COVID-19 and requires medical care, or under the Texas Labor Code if your county is currently subject to a Declaration of Local Disaster. You should consult with an employment attorney if you need help understanding the specifics of your situation.

Q: What if they lay me off, but keep someone younger and with less experience in the same role?

A: If you believe that you have been discriminated against on the basis of age or other protected categories, you should consult with an employment attorney to determine if you have a valid claim for wrongful termination.

Q: What should I do if I am asked to take a pay cut?

A: Your pay may be cut due to economic or operating conditions that affect employment and due to COVID-19-related reasons. You should consult with an employment attorney if you believe that you are not being treated equally on the basis of a protected category or if you believe that your employer has another discriminatory reason for requesting you to take a pay cut.

Q: Can I be punished for not taking one?

A: It depends on the reason for your employer’s request. Your pay may be cut due to economic or operating conditions that affect employment and due to COVID-19-related reasons. You should consult with an employment attorney if you believe that you are not being treated equally on the basis of a protected category or if you believe that your employer has another discriminatory reason for requesting you to take a pay cut.

KPRC 2′s Mario Diaz will host a Facebook Live session on the KPRC 2 Facebook page Friday to answer employment questions.