Workin’ Moms During COVID-19

Whether we’re talking about show on Netflix about four Canadian women with very different jobs and families or the oxymoron of the “working mom” (because, of course, all moms work), mothers, in particular, seem to have carried a heavier load during this pandemic.

The devastation hit Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) and Black moms even harder. (It’s AANHPI, not AAPI. I’ll get that right in future.)

Working Mothers, In General, Suffered Through the Pandemic

I told you back in February that McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2020 reported that more than one in four women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. In March, Vice President Kamala Harris said that 2.5 million women (!) have left the work force entirely since the beginning of the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reports that 1.8 million have left also, but the cost seems higher for women as they continue to bear the brunt of childcare and school, cleaning, planning, coordinating, shopping, and cooking all while “managing” full-time jobs or falling victim to layoffs and furloughs.

One report (the University of Arkansas and the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California) found that female employment began plummeting almost immediately once COVID-19 closed things down in March 2020. Since then, the authors of the report found that women have shouldered a heavier load than men when it came to providing child care.

Image by marcinjozwiak from Pixabay

In fact, the Women’s Bureau (part of the DOL) Director Wendy Chun-Hoon wrote a blog highlighting how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted working moms, and what needs to be done to help them. She highlighted that out-of-work mothers ages 25-54 were nearly three times as likely (32% vs 12%) as out-of-work dads to cite COVID-related childcare issues as the reason they were not employed; and 58% of moms said that COVID-related concerns had negatively affected their mental health.  

AANHPI and Black Moms, In Particular

What I did not know is that the statistics for women identifying as Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are even more stark—of the approximately 8.5 million AANHPI women in the U.S., more than 5 million are in the labor force.

Between January 2020 and January 2021, the Women’s Bureau reported that 11% of Asian working moms with children 12 or younger, and 10% of Black moms left the workforce. In comparison, 8% of white mothers did so, as did 7% of Hispanic moms.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

DOL reports, too, that “racial and ethnic variations in employment losses were due in part to systemic racism, reflected in factors such as occupational segregation and disparities in unemployment and access to paid leave.”

Sprinkle in an increase sexual and race-based harassment across industries (here, here and here), top it off with rising mental health conditions among employees, and employers may find themselves with a pretty noxious, intersectional workplace issue. Employers must maintain a “top-down” culture prohibiting and not tolerating unlawful harassment.

What Can Employers Do?

As I discussed on a panel recently, Has COVID-19 Changed the Labor & Employment Landscape, employers might consider flexibility and empathy, following employee safety. What would go a long way:

  • While DOL Secretary Marty Walsh is considering national paid leave, employers can provide paid sick and family leave now! And it’s free! How, you ask? Well, under the once-mandatory, now-voluntary Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The federal government reimburses businesses who provide this leave with tax credits through September 30, 2021.
  • Create more flexible schedules, including part-time and job-sharing options;
  • Does your insurer offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? If so, do your employees know about? Consider signing up for an EAP that provides free or low-cost mental health benefits, and talk it up at work;
  • Talk to your employees who are parents and caregivers to discover what would help them best;
  • Have a clear, updated, detailed (i.e., include examples) anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy;
  • Have a well-defined procedure for investigating any claims of unlawful harassment and follow the procedure (often where employers drop the ball);
  • Encourage reporting of harassment by anyone subject to or a witness to it instead of excusing it;
  • And, of course, document, document, document any employee’s claim of sexual, racial, or other harassment or discrimination as well as the steps you take to stop and prevent it.

This past year has steered women’s ship in a very different direction from where it was trying to head. Let’s work to right the ship.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.