I’m scared I’ll be fired for needing to care for my kid while we work from home

A reader writes:

I work as a healthcare professional for a large national company where we have strict turnaround times to review our cases. Right now due to Covid-19, the state has suspended our work and we are just doing clerical work for the most part. We all work from home normally, not just now. Our employer recently installed trackers on the computers that track idle time vs productive time and send reports to management (yes, professional adults being tracked).

My manager recently asked why I have so much idle time. I explained that right now, I’m homeschooling my young children and am trying to balance work and homeschooling that all of us were forced into. She told me upper management is looking at this too, and a few days later, grand boss told all us in a meeting that we are allowed two 15-minute breaks and an unpaid lunch. That’s all. Grand boss even said, “I better not see any other breaks taken.” Nice.

No one asked for this situation and everyone is doing the best they can do. Even now, I’ve finished all my work by 5 pm, never had a write-up or been coached for not doing my work, even have enough time to help others on the team. We are returning to our normal busy work in a couple weeks and the management implied that we are expected to work and not be idle unless it’s for a break. But my work is always done on time, with or without my kids home. It’s just that some of us have more idle time than others right now and we can’t afford nannies like these higher-ups. They also won’t allow us to make up any idle time after work hours.

What are employees’ rights, if any, in this situation? I’m seeing that it may be family status discrimination but other sites say it’s not. Other colleagues with young children and I are scared for our jobs. I understand the employer’s expectations but summer camps still aren’t open to full capacity in my state. Talking to HR won’t make any difference where I work because they always side with management.

Your employer can indeed tell you that you can’t homeschool a child during the workday. Pre-COVID, most employers that allowed working from home had policies requiring you to have separate child care if you had young kids; they didn’t want you trying to do both. COVID changed that, of course, but at some point employers will start moving back toward something closer to where they were before.

But while it’s not illegal for them to say you need to be fully focused on work during the work day, it’s both impractical and callous right now while schools, camps, and daycares are closed. Many, many parents are completely out of options — the places they’d normally send their kids during the day are closed, the daycares that have started reopening have very limited spots and most are full, and lots of people can’t afford in-home child care or can’t take the risk health-wise. So what does your employer propose — that all parents of young kids leave the workforce? (And if so, guess which sex is going to bear vastly more of that burden?)

Obviously employers would like their workforce back to full-time productivity. But it’s still not possible for many people right now, and the answer can’t be “just fire them all.” We still need employers to be flexible. We are not yet at a point where we can return to business as usual.

As for what to do … Are there other parents in a similar boat in your company? You might have better chances if you band together and push back as a group, pointing out that parents of young kids currently have no way to do what the company is asking of them … and perhaps pointing out that if the end result of the policy is that all the parents get fired / can’t work there, that could indeed be a legal issue. (Some states prohibit discrimination based on family status. If yours doesn’t, a good lawyer could probably argue this would be sex discrimination if it ends up having a disparate impact on women.)

You can also make this point on your own, but your voice will have more weight if there’s a group of you. See if your non-parent coworkers are willing to lend their voices to support you too.

One other thing: when you talk to your boss, I wouldn’t refer to “homeschooling” — just say you need to care for a child whose school is currently closed. Homeschooling sounds like a separate job unto itself (which it is!) and will sound to a lot of people like you’re spending much less time on work than if you leave that language out.

Other things you should know: if your employer has fewer than 500 employees, the CARES Act gives you up to 12 weeks of expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds of your regular rate of pay (up to $200 per day and $2,000 over a two-week period) if you are unable to work because you need to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed for reasons related to COVID-19, so that might be something to explore as well.

If worst comes to worst, you can also collect unemployment if you’re unable to work because of child care needs, but that would mean resigning your job, which is not a good outcome here.

The push to reopen businesses without support in place for parents of young children is adding to the disaster we’re already in … and deciding “we’re over it and and ready to go back to normal” does not act as a magical spell that makes it so.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 419 comments… read them below }

  1. Third or Nothing!*

    I have a 3 year old and I’ve been working from home while caring for her since mid-March. It is difficult but like you, I still get all my stuff done. I am so, so sorry your company is being a jerk about wanting maximum productivity at all times during regular office hours…as if the higher-ups never shoot the breeze for an extra 5 minutes while getting coffee.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        For realz. I meant more the stupid notion that she should always be working at all times in order to be at maximum productivity. For Pete’s sake, even machinery has down time or it overheats.

      2. OP*

        Not only are we all getting our work done, our main duties were suspended by the state so all we’re doing is making calls to members and checking our cases for updates. This takes all of 2 or 3 hours max.

        1. leapingLemur*

          So they want you to be constantly busy but aren’t giving you enough work where you could be busy all the time even if you wanted to. Plus, they should be more sensitive to parents who have no reasonable options for childcare.

          1. Quill*

            I wonder what the mechanism is for detecting “idle” time? I’ve kept a screen from timing out by setting my mouse on my phone to vibrate every so often before…

            1. Ann Nonymous*

              I was thinking along the same lines. If there’s not an app for randomly shaking a mouse mimicking productivity, there should be *running to TM it*.

            2. Quiet Liberal*

              At old dysfunctional company, they kept track of the “clicks” and what things you were clicking on in a file so they could see who was being productive. And, the first to be let go were those who had the least computer activity. I know this because I was a manager and was required to report those metrics to the higher ups. If a worker spent an hour helping a customer with a problem, and not clicking on the computer, their record was penalized. All that mattered were those clicks. It really sucked.

              1. Telgar*

                You could use an autoclicker. Some even allow a sequence of clicks on different locations.

              2. babblemouth*

                That’s insane. Therte are so many issues here, but one that jumps to mind is that plenty of people prefer to work on pen and paper when doing the “thinking” bit of their work and then bring that back to the screen, so they’d be reported for not working when in fact they are.

                “Butts in chairs” mentality being replaced by “eyes on screens and hands on mouse” is not an improvement…

              3. Ego Chamber*

                Your old dysfunctional company has big “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean” energy.

        2. NowI'mHungry*

          OP, I’m so confused about what other work your bosses are demanding you to do. Since your normal workload has been suspended, and your current workload only takes 2-3 hours a day, are they asking you to just appear busy? If that’s the case, it seems like they’re trying to prove that the company’s productivity metrics/stats remain unchanged during the pandemic, which is a ridiculous expectation.

        3. Case of the Mondays*

          Do you just need to be “not idle”? If so, can you keep moving your mouse periodically? How long does it take for it to go idle? Do you have a co-parent? Sometimes when my husband is taking a break he leaves his laptop with me and I keep it from going idle by touching it every 5 minutes or so while doing my own work. I can also alert him if he gets any urgent IMs.

          1. A Poster Has No Name*

            This is where I was going, too. Get a wireless mouse and just keep moving it while doing what you need to with your child.

            1. Bree*

              I’m imagining some kind of homemade robot connecting an oscillating fan to the mouse so that it moves every minute. That’s a joke, of course, but if you don’t actually have enough work to stay “active” the whole day it’s not functionally different than if you were sitting there yourself!

                1. Third or Nothing!*

                  Haha, my dog likes to curl up under the table at my feet while I work, so the mouse would move way less if I attached it to her. My toddler, on the other hand, never stops moving. She’d be a great candidate.

              1. Dave H*

                My first thought was “cat toy” something that makes small movements irregularly. Attach to mouse, switch on when you need to be away.

                …Not that I have any specific recommendations. Nope.

              2. Kathlynn (canada)*

                There are programs to do this. Auto clickers, and others that I have used for gaming (not competitive. But ones that have things like “make 1mil clicks” as a daily challenge)

                1. Quill*

                  Autoclicker for games where you have to farm resources… very familiar with those ones.

              3. Batty Twerp*

                I was picturing that nodding water drinking bird toy that Homer uses when he worked from home. But then I realised that’s a little ungenerous because Homer was trying to get out of being productive at all, not just going through the motions to keep idiotic higher-ups from losing their bonuses (company performance usually equals management rewards).

              4. TardyTardis*

                There was a Simpsons episode where Homer trained a toy drinking duck to click on things…

            2. nnn*

              If you have pockets in your clothing and you put the wireless mouse in your pocket with the bottom of the mouse against your body, it usually results in the pointer moving around on screen.

          2. cosmicgorilla*

            I saw a video a month back or so where someone had set up their mouse with a fan (or maybe it was 2 fans). As the fan went back and forth, it moved the mouse. I think the fan had 2 pencils attached, and the mouse was set up between the 2 pencils.

            It is ridiculous that someone would have to go to this length for a draconian and stupid rule, but it is an option.

          3. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, I’m sure there’s programs that do exactly that, so you don’t even need the wireless mouse.

            1. LurkNoMore*

              -open an excel blank workbook
              -attached an open paperclip on your keyboard’s insert key so that it’s pressed down
              Presto! your computer won’t go into idle mode

          4. nnn*

            If “not idle” is defined by the same criteria Windows 10 uses to decide when to put up the lock screen or go to sleep, you can keep your computer “not idle” by playing a video in Windows Media Player.

            Don’t have a video file on your computer? If your computer has a built-in webcam, you can film three seconds of nothing, then play it muted on repeat.

            I do this to keep my lock screen from coming on when I’m proofreading on paper so I can continue hearing email alerts. (My employer doesn’t allow us to change the lock screen settings.)

            1. Kathlynn (canada)*

              go to youtube, open a playlist (like say of your favourite artist), and set it to autoplay (iirc, those loop)

              1. WorkingGirl*

                Somehow I feel like an employer that puts TRACKERS in a computer, is going to block sites like YouTube for being “distracting”

            2. TardyTardis*

              Go to Mr. Lamb’s Science Corner, click on videos, and then play all. It will take a while to go through all of them. (why, yes, he is my husband…).

        4. Third or Nothing!*

          I wish you could see the face I’m making right now. They’re being asinine and I am very frustrated on your behalf. I hope you have success pushing back on this stupidity.

          Seriously, I just can’t with people who think that you always have to be working at all times in order to be productive.

        5. Jeannalola*

          Yes!!! My grandboss said at a meeting since we are salaried we need to put in a minimum of 40 hours, and probably 60 since we are salaried. But THERE IS NO WORK! So basically I do what I need to do and keep signed in all day. So, my “store is open.”. If you don’t have work to give me, that is on you, not me. I have gone through every single online learning opportunity, etc, to improve skills and be a better employee. I am grateful to be still being paid, since so many are suffering. But this is mind numbing and so anxiety producing.

          1. Armchair Expert*

            60 hours a week because “you’re salaried”? So 12 hour days? That’s not a normal expectation, is it?

          2. Ego Chamber*

            Your grandboss doesn’t understand how salary works: if you’re paid salary, you’re paid to complete the tasks you’re assigned regardless of how much time that takes. (Opposed to being hourly, where you’re paid for your time regardless of the amount of work you get done.) The fact that he’s conflating your pay with the hours you work makes me think he probably misclassifies people to avoid paying overtime.

    1. Teapot Automation*

      I have 4 kids, toddler to tween. My managers response was “Just do your best. And we should order you a work phone so you can stay more connected when you have to step away for a while.” It’s made a world of difference not being tethered to my desk to catch every ping, ding and email! I hope there is a good resolution down the pike for you.

    2. Momma Bear*

      If people were doing their jobs fine before, what’s with the tracker? Even without kids, looking at everyone that closely is just horrible management. I wouldn’t want to stay there. It’s demoralizing and negates any benefit of WFH and treats professionals like children. I’d talk to childless coworkers because I bet more than one bristles at this monitoring for other reasons.

  2. anonY*

    If you’re typically evaluated based on your actual productivity versus your apparent productivity I’d probably spend some time figuring out what they’re using to track “idle time” and find a way to defeat it. Because this is just literally bullshit and they could have the same tracker (and may well do so) for people working in an office to absolutely no benefit.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      Same. Keep your work laptop open and wiggle the mouse around periodically, or refresh the Google search page, or something.

      1. anonifriend*

        My partner works in one of those jobs that involves downtime & being paid to be available when work drops but also their employer like to think that’s not true and productivity tracks. So my partner figured out how they track and stays “active” all day. Also understands how macros work, so consistently is ranked one of the most productive and hard working of the department while watching movies half the day.

          1. A Poster Has No Name*

            You can create macros that will do things like move your cursor so you don’t have to physically be interacting with your computer for it to look like you’re active.

          2. Emilia Bedelia*

            Macros can help you get your actual work done quicker, so you can drastically reduce the amount of time that you actually need to be working. If you can get a 1 hour manual task done in 5 minutes using a macro, you can get “8 hours work” and then some done in a short time. Taking advantage of the activity tracker just means that they don’t have to pretend to stretch the work into 8 hours.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          I had a job where they logged “productivity” this way, essentially just making sure you were typing or doing something, not what you were doing. We used to hack it by putting something on the Ctrl key or an arrow key that would hold it down so it would just keep “typing” continuously. That was all the tracker wanted, so you flew under the radar as far as “down time” was concerned as long as you were available enough to respond to emails, etc.

      2. Anon for this*

        My mother in law’s company tracks this “productivity” for their employees (also a national Healthcare company where she typically works from home, maybe the same one). Her company judges it based on mouse movements. So, when her mouse is stationary she puts it on a mouse mover pad. Her “productivity” shot up as soon as she got it and now she has to manage how often she uses it to make sure her numbers stay low enough to fly under the radar. It’s absolutely stupid, but if they are going to have stupid rules you have to find a way to get by.

    2. Ali G*

      Seriously if productivity =/= getting all your work done, then what is it? Is it time logged into an internal system? Then refresh the page every 15 minutes, or whatever. Fill your calendar with fake meetings, so you are always “busy” on your status.

      1. Heather*

        I call it the Butts in Seats approach. My job averages out to 40 hrs a week. That means some weeks are more and some weeks are less. Since we are salaried, my boss just wants us to get the work done. A former coworker went to work someplace where you *must* be in the office 8.5 hours a day no matter what, even if you worked 80 hours the prior week and are not busy. They have to sneak out over lunch to go to any non-work appointments. I could never deal with that.

    3. Lygeia*

      This! There are programs you can download that automatically wiggle your mouse periodically. If that’s what’s being tracked, then I would not feel bad about using something like that. In this current situation your company’s expectations are unreasonable.

      1. seahorsesarecute*

        I’ve seen memes online where someone has attached their mouse to a table top oscillating fan with a string – keeps that mouse moving without any software. I mean if that’s all it takes….

        1. AnonAnon*

          LOL This is what I saw too and was going to suggest it. And if you are macro savvy, program a quick macro in one of the MS Office apps. You can even have the macro type stuff into a word document automatically. I’m sure a google search would provide the code.

          I used to work in a lab setting and some of the programs required you to be active or the analysis would stop. Our PCs were programmed to go to sleep after 15 minutes of idle time and there was no way to override that. So to overcome this, they would tape the mouse to a test tube rocker.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              Use the old Homer Simpson ‘perpetual motion bird tapping the Ctrl or Shift key over and over’ hack!

          1. SearchTermAnon*

            if you’re looking for a used one, nutator, orbitron(TM) “orbital shaker” or “tube mixer” are useful search terms. Don’t be misled by much cheaper boxes or mats for them; the instrument itself will set you back $130+, even used. Might double for various crafts, I suppose, if you need to excuse the outlay.

      2. snoopythedog*

        I came here to say the same thing. I’m sure someone out there on the internets has written a code for this. I know an engineer friend did the same thing with a company that scrutinized everything. Just don’t google it on your work computer.

        Or, if you don’t want to run the risk of them seeing the program, The fan idea is a good one :)

        1. Bob*

          Homer Simpson used a drinking bird. However it nearly blew up a nuclear power plant, something to bear in mind :D

          1. SomebodyElse*

            This is what came to mind first thing!

            But yes, I’m all for following rules but the minute they stop making sense or are counter productive, then it’s time to find a way around them.

      3. Person from the Resume*

        My organization can’t install unauthorized software on our machines so I couldn’t do this, but I think this is a terrible idea regardless.

        If an employer is installing productivity software to watch their employees work, how much harder is it for them to scan your computer for the mouse wiggling software, find it, and fire you because you’re trying to cheat the system and are likely not even at your computer all day long.

        1. AnonAnon*

          Right. Depending on how robust their IT department is, it is super easy to run a report to see what is installed on your computer. I worked in IT and we did this.

        2. leapingLemur*

          Yeah. Maybe use the fan or something else, but downloading a program to do this could be found, plus who knows if the program might have a virus?

        3. Can Can Cannot*

          There are programs like Caffeine that do not require an install. It’s simply an executable file that you can drop on your desktop and start by clicking on it with your mouse. IT might be able to see if if they scan the processes that are running on every machine, but they can’t control it via the install process since there is no install process.

          1. Keyboard Jockey*

            I came here to suggest Caffeine. I’ve used it for jobs where idle state is tracked via IM app and the boss gets mad if you show as idle (which is terrible for me, because I cannot get heads-down coding done when my IM is open, so I’m frequently more productive when off IM). Fortunately I’m not in that position any more, but Caffeine worked a treat for me.

        4. A Poster Has No Name*

          A macro in MS Word isn’t a separate program, and would be much harder to detect than a separate piece of software.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            The would be a good option. You could even possibly make it something useful if there is a general, mundane thing you need to do. Or you could just set it up to type “Bite me, I’m getting my work done.” every couple of minutes.

        5. Xerxes*

          Open up Word and put a stapler on your space bar. Works like a charm to keep me active on Skype and Teams and doesnt require any software downloads

      4. Matt*

        Honestly, as soon as I read this I was all like building a Howard Wolowitz like robot arm to move the mouse or whatever …

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        This policy is objectively bad for all employees, LW’s family situation makes it worse, but everyone should be up in arms over this.

    4. Dumpster Fire*

      If they’re just tracking whether your computer is active vs. inactive (and not actually tracking whether you’re using a particular application), I saw a nice easy hack online: the guy opened a Word file, took an “old padlock from the junk drawer” (or just something with a little bit of weight to it), and set it onto a key. In his case it was the decimal point, so he ended up with pages of dots after the ten minutes or so he needed to be away from his computer. Close the file without saving, do it again when you need to be away.
      Of course, I’m not condoning “not doing your job”, but it sure sounds like you’re doing your job and your employer is being ridiculous.

      1. Batgirl*

        Even if it’s a particular application I bet OP can use it for homeschooling or herself. Doing a shopping list in word or budget in excel. If they want to play the game of not looking at her actual output, it’s on.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        I used a key chain with a little bit of heft to it to hold down the CTRL key at a job that tracked this way.

        That job was super annoying, because a lot of my work revolved around reviewing docs and comparing lists, etc. So the computer would often be “idle” even though I was very much working, just not typing or moving anything.

    5. Her Tinkness*

      I heard a story from an engineer friend of mine. This was back in the day when pagers were a thing. They had software on their computers that would track times when the computer wasn’t being used. So when the engineers wanted an extra long lunch, they’d leave their pagers at their desk. Specifically right next to the mouse. Every so often, they’d call the pager number, and the pager would jiggle the mouse enough to register as someone using the computer.

      Apropos of nothing, of course.

      1. Quill*

        Same, but preventing a computer from stopping a long process while it was “idle” and I needed to do other stuff. Mouse on phone, phone set to alarm every 10 minutes, 2 hours of other things done while computer games downloaded the old fashioned way.

        1. Mizzle*

          If you want to be able to use your phone in the meantime, try caffeine (as mentioned above). It’s really very convenient, and there’s no risk of it accidentally activating something. (It simulates a keypress on a button that doesn’t exist on normal keyboards. )

    6. Jenny*

      I once worked for a place that did some audit and said we had a certain percentage of “idle time”. Except I can do math and it worked out to six minutes a day, which is easily a normal bathroom break.

      Using computer “active time” rather than actual work done to track productivity is crazypants. It basically incentives inefficiency.

    7. Sunset Maple*

      Yup, if they want to play stupid games, they win stupid prizes. Download Caffeine and call it a day.

    8. Joielle*

      I wonder if the problem is that they’re just doing clerical work for now, which they can finish by 5 pm, but once they start going back to normal work it will be a problem? I know the OP says they’ve always finished their work on time before, but also it sounds like they haven’t had to do a normal workload since the kids have been home full time because of COVID.

      Of course, management should let them make up time after hours as much as possible, and if the strict turnaround times aren’t actually necessary then those rules should be relaxed, as long as things are getting done in a reasonable timeframe. But it sounds to me like even though they’re on top of everything now, that may become a lot harder when they go back to doing their regular work, in which case just tricking the computer into thinking it’s active isn’t going to be enough.

      1. redwinemom*

        As AW mentioned, you can buy a Mouse Jiggler on Amazon. I just checked and the one made by Stageek is selling for $35.99. (No Software Needed, Plug &Play)
        I’ll bet they are selling a lot of them these days.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        It sounds like it’s a problem at this point, though. OP said in the post that the company “recently installed trackers” and that OP was “recently asked” about the idle time, even though the only work to be completed right now takes 2-3 hours.

        1. Joielle*

          Yeah, that’s true. I guess I just meant that the actual amount of work that needs to be done isn’t a problem for now – i.e. the OP can finish it and deal with their kid at the same time. So in that case, a mouse jiggler would solve it. But soon, they’ll have more work, and they won’t be able to get it done while also dealing with the kid, and a mouse jiggler doesn’t fix that problem.

    9. Yorick*

      My friend discovered you can open Notepad and put something a little heavy on your space bar.

  3. Anon4This*

    We just had someone quit because our employer is requiring us to come back to the office, but daycares are not open yet. Not everyone has a grandparent or other family member close enough and healthy enough to provide childcare, and even if you can find a babysitter- often they charge so much it’s not affordable unless you have a pretty high salary. And it’s not just about homeschooling- children under a certain age simply can’t be left to their own devices for an entire work day. Heck, I have teenagers so I don’t have to home school, but they still require food and interrupt me occasionally with questions or needs. I really don’t understand what employers expect people with young children to do.

    1. Lana Kane*

      They expect employees to put work over their families. Which is how it’s always been, excet now it’s more obvious.

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      I can’t imagine what’s going through some of these bosses’ heads! We don’t have childcare right now. No daycare – they had to halve their capacity. No grandparents – they work at a hospital and the other set is 4 hours away. No sitter – the neighbors across the street who are our backup (in normal times) literally tested positive today.

      And we’re still immensely lucky, because we have 2 parents in the house and enough flexibility to make it work. I don’t know what lies upper management are telling themselves, but those lies are hurting good workers and destroying goodwill.

      1. Cookie Monster*

        Yes, seriously-same issue here and I am basically forcing my work to be flexible and my job is one that has always been able to be done 100% from home-they just don’t like that. Meanwhile, my workload has literally quadrupled in the past 3 months and I am still slogging through everything while both working from home and watching my child who needs a snack every 15 minutes–and I am still made to feel guilty that daycares aren’t open.

      2. A Poster Has No Name*

        I don’t think there is much going through these bosses heads except MAKE MONEY NOW. They’re not thinking about longer-term impacts on their business (eg. having a bunch of current employees quit and having to hire & train a bunch of new people, etc.). Companies are terrible, in general, about thinking about the longer-term implications of their decisions.

        1. BlackBelt Jones*

          Non-profits are acting the same way!
          Apparently, getting the work done is not enough. There has to be suffering, too.

      3. glitter writer*

        Same. Schools and daycares are closed and my spouse and I don’t have grandparents available — all either live more than 1,000 miles away, or are deceased.

        We made a point of lining up child care so we could do our jobs, and then the world reneged on its half of the bargain. We, like you, are lucky that there are two of us and we have relatively flexible schedules but it’s been arduous and I cannot imagine how much worse it would be if our employers were micromanaging monsters like this.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Honestly, employers and managers are in a bit of a catch 22 right now. (not talking about the OP’s employer as they aren’t making much sense).

      As a manager:
      Work still has to get done
      I get that people have families and small kids that need to be watched
      Some employees don’t have small kids or families that need attention
      Going back to the office is going to be a problem if day cares/schools aren’t open
      I can’t afford to pay people and not work
      I don’t want to lose otherwise good employees
      Yes, as a manager my main concern is the work and not your family
      At at the same time I know that your main concern is your family and not your work.
      I want to be as accommodating and understanding as I can be
      I have to be as fair as I can spreading work around as evenly as I can to all my employees.
      I’m trying to juggle my own work and family

      I think the vast majority of managers and employers are doing the best they can juggling all of these competing priorities and it’s not going to work out 100% of the time.

      1. Chakhmal*

        Obvious solution is to tell employee, “we understand you need to spend 25% of time on child care, so we will make you part time 75% and pay you 75% of your normal salary for duration of the work-from-home”?

        1. chaco*

          Those numbers seem arbitrary and the general practice of just assuming certain employees will be performing childcare and reducing their pay based on your assumption of its extent seems discriminatory.

          It’s especially egregious in OP’s case, since there’s only 25% of the normal work available to begin with. OP is doing 25% of the work, OP’s childless colleagues are doing 25% of the work, but you want to pay OP 75% pay and her colleagues 100% just because she’s less able to jiggle her mouse for 8 specific hours? No.

        2. Clisby*

          Maybe, if the work has to be done within really rigidly prescribed hours.

          Before I retired, I worked 100% remotely, and didn’t have to put up with any nonsense like that. I worked full-time. I might start work at 4 a.m., I might end at midnight, I might work on the weekends … as long as I put in at least 40 hours a week and got my work done, I was fine.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        From your list, it sounds like you’re a good manager. Unfortunately, OP’s management gets a big ol’ zero in being as accommodating and understanding as it’s possible to be. All OP’s work is getting done in 3 hours, but her management apparently wants her to sit there wiggling her mouse for the other 5 — that’s not a catch 22, that’s bad management.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          That’s why I excluded them from my comment :)

          If the OP were my employee, I wouldn’t care what they did for the 5 hours in the day not actively working. But I was commenting on the larger issues right now facing both employees and managers. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I have work that fills an 8 hour day for my employees, and that hasn’t changed. That is true for a lot of businesses and managers right now. While it’s also true that many employees have conflicts with that same 8 hour day.

          If I had all the answers I’d be selling them for a price and not worrying about all of this stuff… just thought I’d offer a different perspective here.

        2. TootsNYC*

          and they won’t allow people to “flex” their hours so they’re making up the time after the kids go to sleep or something.

      3. ShanShan*

        The general unspoken agreement that most of us adhere to (and, I would say, that most of us believe is fair) is that absorbing this kind of shock is the responsibility of the people further up the chain of command, not the people lower down.

        Business owners get all of the profit from a business. Employees just get a salary. Most employees are fine with that, because we see it as a tradeoff: we get less reward in exchange for taking on less risk. Business owners get the profit, but they are also supposed to be the first to give up money if the business doesn’t do well — because it’s their business, whether it’s doing well or poorly.

        That’s why a lot of us are upset. We feel like this contract is being broken. Because you can’t say “I am entitled to all of the profit when this business does well but I am also going to pass off the lion’s share of the risk to employees when it does poorly.” That’s not fair, and it makes employees feel used and betrayed. That’s an arrangement where a lot of people are working to make one person rich, not a mutually beneficial arrangement that’s good for everyone.

        And yes, maybe you are just the manager and not the business owner, so this isn’t really your fault, but you are still basically the owner’s mouthpiece in that case, so it’s not exactly going to make you popular, especially if you (as a person with more power than most employees) are not visibly fighting against it.

        TL;DR: We’re mad because business owners have been taking most of the profit from these businesses for years, on the principle that they deserved it because they were also assuming most of the risk, and they are now trying to wiggle out of the risk.

        This is especially true when a company isn’t on the verge of going bankrupt, but simply on the verge of making lower profits — which, right now, is most companies that aren’t small and local.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          you just nailed it. Yes, they get the dividends because of the risk. When things go tits up, the employee gets unemployment benefit and the shareholders suck it up. Seems like shareholders have forgotten that part of it and just assume they are entitled to dividends whatever happens. They should never have got away with paying out dividends after being bailed out in 2008.

    4. CC*

      I know someone who was having trouble working at home with her 5 year old home 24/7 (& her husband has an essential job so he was not home during the work day to help). Her job requires basically all video calls & they made it clear they did not want to see or hear the kid.

      She finally broke down & sent the 5 year old to a neighbor’s house for 3 hours a day like 3 days a week (because her only other choice was for 1 of them to quit & they really need the $).

      Not even the 2nd week, the neighbors get confirmed diagnosed with Covid19 & all of them were put in quarantine. And based on their symptoms, they probably have it (test was pending last I heard).

      They were trying to make the best decision for the family & got burned.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        That sucks! It’s those arbitrary kinds of rules that drive me nutty. I mean, I get you don’t want a kid shrieking in the background for an hour, or have someone on the meeting completely distracted because their kid is asking a million questions, but you need to be reasonable!

        I got off a call five minutes ago where we could hear one of my coworker’s kids playing in the background, they weren’t screaming or yelling or anything, you could just tell they were there moving around, hear them laugh every one and while, that kind of thing. It had zero impact on our meeting. Zero impact. If anything, it was kind of sweet and relaxing to hear kiddos having fun. Having a situation where you are aware that children exist and are present in a space is not a recipe for disaster.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes, I think there’s a huge difference between crying and laughing, even if the decibels are the same. But there are some grouches who don’t like kids full stop.

  4. SassyAccountant*

    Are you a direct employee of this place or a contract worker who is a W-4 for another company and contracted out to this company for their contract? If you are the latter you need to speak to them and have them advocate on your behalf. I worked for a smaller company that provided nurses etc for case management for health care fraud etc. They worked directly for us, from their homes, but did work for this other company. To be clear these were government contracts. We had quite a few nurses who were tracked for these contracts and it was always a point of contention we were negotiating about on their behalf. They were salaried and meeting their deadlines but their performance were dinged if they were “idle” too long. This included staff meetings etc. They had to sit and just move their mouses to appear that they were “working.” My sympathies!

  5. Ali G*

    If I were in this situation and I qualified, I would be sorely tempted to take the EFMLA and they can shove it. We have employees that are using this right now and we are totally turning a blind eye to the kid stuff, unless there is a real work problem.
    I’m sorry your managers suck.

    1. jen hen*

      I had an issue with my EFMLA in this situation, and I’m sharing this in case anyone else has this issue:

      Daycares in my area are open where I live (although at limited capacity, and most are asking folks to “save” spots for essential healthcare workers). I have almost 200 hours of sick time. I thought I could use that under EFMLA to allow us to save those daycare spots for folks more in need than we are. HR approved it and allowed it for a couple weeks, before coming back to tell me that not sending my kid to daycare during a pandemic was my choice and that I needed to end my EFMLA leave effective immediately.

      1. Ali G*

        Yes there are some sticky points in the law. The law says if your childcare is “unavailable” (or something like that) due to COVID. If it’s available and you choose not to use it, then you do not qualify. It sucks, both in terms of what you experienced, and for some that are terrified of sending their kids back when their day cares do open. Your employer probably realized they weren’t on the right side of the law and had to stop your leave, because otherwise they won’t qualify for the tax credit to pay you the difference.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          This is exactly the same bullshit as the state and fed both saying people in high-risk categories “should” stay home from work but not giving any extra of financial support to allow that to happen and also going further to say if you “choose” to stay home from work, that was “your decision” and that speck of agency obliterates most safety nets that currently exist.

        1. rock, me, hard place*

          This is my situation! My daycare is just over state border where they are turning a very blind eye, and my son has a potentially serious health condition during COVID. Was trying to take EFMLA first for 1st kid’s school shutting down, but they emailed me the paperwork 13 business days after I requested it, and nullifying that reason I needed it. Now, trying to plan agead because dr said at first sign of symptom to take him out until symptom free, that ai could try for intermittent. But they’re like you’ve canceled this leave. I’m furious. Any advice for me here would be helpful

          1. Um, yeah, no*

            I’m not sure if my experience will transfer to yours, but similar situation regarding intermittent need of FMLA. My spouse was on chemo, so in my discussions with HR I emphasized that only some days/times I would need time off, depending on chemo reaction with each infusion.
            The doctor certified that spouse would need intermittent caregiver due to medical treatment.
            This went on for a few years, and HR just wanted me to document the time off if it was FMLA (vs vacation).
            Good luck.

  6. Sir Lena Clare*

    I feel so lucky to work where I do. They’ve been brilliant at reassuring people that whenever we go back parents, carers and those who are shielding will have procedures in place to manage. Nobody will be forced to go back until everyone they care for is ok too.

    We’re all working from home and doing it well.

    OP, your company sucks. As soon as this lockdown is over I’d be looking for another job.

    1. Kate*

      I swear, lately I have been reading AAM just for the reassurance that my employers are nowhere near as awful as any of the ones in the questions Alison posts.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Alison warned us yesterday that this was RageWeek.

        This bull pucky and the fraud boss definitely registered on my RageOMeter

      2. OP*

        Yes, they do suck. This is just a small sample of what it’s like here. Insurance companies in general dont treat their employees well but my company now takes the award for worst.
        The reason why I stay here is because I’m doing a masters program and have 2 more years. If I could find a job in the field I’m going into (non nursing related), then I would leave now.

        1. ex-tech guy*

          +1 re: insurance companies. I worked at a title insurance company as a contract employee a couple of times in college and it was truly horrible, and that was just at a small branch office. The reviews of HQ, which is near where I live and work now in another part of the country, seem truly dystopian, like ‘using fobs to monitor employees’ location inside the building and disciplining them for taking long lunches’ level of dystopian, based on Glassdoor.

    2. Jayn*

      Likewise, my spouse’s employer hasn’t even talked about bringing people back, but as I have reason to be extra cautious ATM, he’s been reassured that even if they did he’d still be okay to WFH.

  7. Can Can Cannot*

    There are programs that keep your computer from being idle. Not sure if you would be comfortable using them, but they are an option. One that I have used in the past is Caffeine by Zhorn Software. It is free, and doesn’t require you to install any software, just add the file to your desktop and click on it.

      1. irene adler*

        Yes! I was just going to suggest the “drinking bird” also known as the “dunking bird” . Low tech, but handy.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      Came here to say this. If your requirements include a mouse wiggling on my computer from 9 am to 5 pm, well…there’s an app for that. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The evil IT admin part of me wants to suggest sellotaping a vibrator to a mouse…

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Yes, as long as the batteries/charge doesn’t run out and get you caught. This is a PSA about the importance of fresh batteries/keeping charged. ;P

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        This is by far my favorite suggestion. No programs that IT could scan and catch, deliciously low tech, and absolutely hilarious.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          And even if we in the IT department catch onto it we’d likely just wet ourselves laughing! When we’re not busy disabling the ‘productivity monitoring software’ on our own machines of course..

      2. JustaTech*

        Attach the mouse to the baby/child? “Here honey, here’s a new game where you keep the mousy moving!”

        Honestly I think the big bosses are asking for this because they don’t actually understand what their employees *do*, so rather than look at the metrics they already have (is the work getting done well and on time?) they default to the laziest, least-accurate way of measuring “working” – butts-in-seats.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I…I dread to ask but I must know. Why is a vibratory subject to surveillance testing!?

    3. Mid*

      Oscillating fan + pencil taped to mouse. Mouse is moving all day. If your work is getting done, I don’t see why it matters. Like another commentor said, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. You’re doing your job to completion.

    4. OP*

      Thanks for the auggestion! I am going to look into one of these programs.
      The tracker thing annoyed all of us because it’s a new thing. All of a sudden the company feels the need to track us. We all do our work on time, we have to because we have very strict turnaround times from the state. Companies are ridiculous in the way they treat their employees.

        1. Quill*

          yes, for example… if they’re tracking actual movement bursts and you have, say, a timer attached to the mouse, it’s probably worth making a 1o minute setting and a 7 minute setting. So the first time either timer went off it would be 7 minutes gap, 3 minutes gap, 4 minutes gap, 6, 1, 3 etc.

          Much harder for the person looking at the logs to spot than “mouse only moves every 5 minutes.”

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        The tracking thing makes me ragey. Unless you’re at a job where you have to be available for calls at specific times (like customer service), there is no need to track employees. You’re not on house arrest!

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          And even then, a reasonable employer will trust employees to show up for their shifts until/unless there’s a problem with a specific person, and not do anything more strict than some sort of clock in/out system so you can confirm who’s on shift at any given time.

    5. Ruby*

      I knew someone who once put an analog watch under his mouse. The optics picked up the moving hands on the watch face.

  8. Anonymom*

    I am extremely thankful that if they weren’t already inclined to be reasonable humans, all it took to reframe perspective was “you realize that there are literally no options right now, correct?”

  9. samecoin*

    Sounds like the OP works for a private insurance company. I work in Healthcare and they are all criminals, they run rackets that would make the mob jealous.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Agreed, I strongly suspect this is an insurance company. It’s very much a “profits over people” industry. I don’t know anyone who has worked at one who hasn’t been screwed by them as employers at some point.

    2. OP*

      Yes, I work for a health insurance company. And you are absolutely right with your statement.

      1. L Dub*

        I used to work for a health insurance company as well, and I feel you. I’m sorry, OP.

  10. patricia*

    “ … a good lawyer could probably argue this would be sex discrimination if it ends up having a disparate impact on women.”

    Narrator: Such policies would, in fact, have a disparate impact on women.

    OP, I’m so sorry your company is being terrible. I don’t have any advice but much sympathy, and feminist rage that it seems like a flipping virus is most likely to set women back decades. I hope you can get together as a group and push back on this.

  11. HR newbie*

    I also had no idea until recently that the EFMLA can be taken intermittently and your company cannot deny you taking it if you qualify for it (as Alison said, for employers with 500 or fewer employees). So you wouldn’t have to take one 2-week chunk at a time; you could use, say, 2 hours a day for childcare or however much you need and receive 2/3 pay for that time.

    1. AmberEliza*

      I actually wondered if that could be taken in hour chunks rather than full days. Our office has 4 10hr days and working from home while parenting is tough! Being able to take an afternoon or two off would be a lifesaver. My company is amazingly flexible but I wasn’t sure if it could be used this way!

      1. Ali G*

        It definitely can. It’s just like regular FMLA, which can be intermittent. We have 3 employees using it to go part time for a while until childcare is worked out.

        1. Annony*

          Do you know if the company has to allow you to use it that way? Or can they say that you must use it for a full day or not at all? I know my company does not allow PPL to be used in hour chunks. You either worked that day or you did not.

          1. Ali G*

            I do not. I think (but am not sure mind you) that it has to be consistent with how FMLA would be managed in normal times. So if you would be eligible for intermittent FMLA due to a disability at your employer, then you should be able to use this the same way.

  12. Ann O'Nemity*

    How much time the OP is showing as “idle” right now? If it’s several hours a day, it’s probably a good idea to take leave or negotiate for a shortened work day.

    This isn’t family discrimination.

    1. Littorally*

      How is it not family discrimination when a policy is openly unworkable specifically for families?

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        It doesn’t sound like they’re treating people with family responsibilities differently than anyone else. They’re being inflexible and strict with everyone. And overly so, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean they are discriminating.

        1. I'd like to keep my job, thanks*

          That’s like saying when a company creates a strict rule for hair standards it isn’t discriminatory. “They’re applying the same standards to everyone!” Yes, they are, but those standards are biased against and disproportionately affect people with textured hair, and so they are inherently discriminatory.

          Creating a policy, even if you apply it to everyone, that disproportionately affects women is sex discrimination.

          1. Ann O'Nemity*

            That’s not the same thing though.

            I don’t think expecting employees to work a full day equals family responsibility discrimination.

            1. TechWorker*

              I think it does personally, if they’re not allowed to catch up after hours.

              In this case it is especially ridiculous because OP doesn’t *have* 8 hours of work a day, but if there’s no business reason you must work 9-5 rather than say, 8-10, 3-5 and 7-11, then I would say that’s unreasonable on the part of the employer and disproportionately impactful on families given the current situation.

            2. Taniwha Girl*

              It does when nobody can get child/elder care because of the GLOBAL PANDEMIC that is happening right now and you somehow expect your workers to work from home while caring for their families.

          2. remizidae*

            This isn’t sex discrimination. It only disproportionately affects women if women do the bulk of child care–which is their (unfortunate) choice and the choice of the child’s father.

            1. Batgirl*

              Yes the reason more women provide childcare is because only women love their children and also, they hate having more earning power. Sounds legit.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                Love it when people totally miss the point by explaining that something isn’t [x] because [person goes on to explicitly define x]. (I am agreeing with Batgirl in her criticism of remizidae, to clarify.)

            2. JustaTech*

              Children are necessary for society to continue.

              If you think that women consciously choose to take on the bulk of child care, hoo boy have I got some unpleasant truths about the way that cultures work to enforce gender roles.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                Nah, we’re not going to do that “you didn’t need to have kids” thing here. Removed. – Alison

            3. chaco*

              So your suggestion is that women just neglect their kids, who already very much exist and are depending on them for care?

              Negotiating better distribution of childcare within a relationship is fantastic and people should do it. But (a) not everyone with kids is in a relationship, (b) not every partner can or will pick up more of the burden (especially if their work is in person or otherwise made more intense by the pandemic), (c) it’s messed up for a manager to insist that women just somehow fix massive systemic issues exacerbated by a global health crisis even though they aren’t affecting the employee’s ability to complete their work.

              Also, let’s just drop the assumption that children are the choice of the mother. Plenty of people get pregnant against their will and don’t have access to abortion. Plenty of people have kids with someone who is supposed to share the burden of childcare but doesn’t. Even if you chose to have a kid, you presumably did so under conditions where you would have access to childcare that has been suspended due to the pandemic.

            4. Taniwha Girl*

              Yep and they definitely make that choice consciously, intentionally, in a vacuum, unhindered by cultural and work norms/habits/expectations.

              Come on, we know that women do the bulk of child care around the world. We don’t need to pretend this isn’t the case.

      2. Temperance*

        It’s not a thing in the employment context, and suggesting such is dangerous and irresponsible, because people might take this as the truth and then put themselves in a bad spot.

        Having set work hours is not discrimination.

    2. I'd like to keep my job, thanks*

      Its family discrimination if she’s hitting all her goals and accomplishing all her work and they’re punishing her for something completely out of her control. Day cares are not open. Schools, summer camps, every way we had to care for our children is gone. Not everyone has family alive or nearby. I have to do all my work during early morning, naps, and very late at night, because I have a 4 and 2 year old by myself and I’m working full time. As long as I am getting my work done, my company does not at all care how I’m able to make it work, just that I do.

      Arbitrary, non results based policies that disproportionately affect women is discrimination.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        If work wants people working 8AM – 5 PM, they certainly can enforce that. It’s not discrimination to insist on hours.

        1. lulu*

          it is under current circumstances. This amount to family discrimination, because as a parent you have to watch your children. there just isn’t any other option. This is not business as normal.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Essential employees managed it. I think it would be very hard to prove discrimination.

            1. Taniwha Girl*

              Essential employees are not managing it. They are putting themselves and their families at risk. Those who are, are able to rely on the limited daycare spots that are available because nonessential workers like OP aren’t taking them up. There won’t be that tiny amount available if everyone uses it up.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                They are managing it–maybe horribly and it’s risky but they felt and feel they had to to keep their jobs and eat. My state wasn’t horribly hit and as essential workers, I was at the office nearly every day. It was risky but people need their jobs.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  You got lucky. Be grateful for that instead of blaming others for not having your good luck.

                2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  Speaking as one in a very hard hit area, I’d say that no person or company can or should make judgments on what is acceptable risks for everyone else.

                  This is a virus that kills. Horribly. People have been confined to home and so have children. There’s no way to pretend that this isn’t the case and that people can drop their kids off somewhere else or just go into work like usual.

                3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  It might be more accurate to say that your state hasn’t been horribly hit YET.
                  I’ve been living at the heart of the worst afflicted zone in one of the worst afflicted countries. Healthcare workers have had to sacrifice their families, often simply moving to live with a colleague in order not to infect their families. A lot of them have died. Their children being looked after by frail grandparents, so they can’t go out and play. Think yourself lucky SO FAR.

    3. Ell*

      I mean, it is family discrimination, it’s just not illegal. I am single and live alone and have no problem working whatever hours from home during this pandemic. My colleagues with children simply do not have that privilege and I cannot imagine balancing having a child at home all day with full time work and the stress that goes into making basic decisions during a global crisis. I really feel for OP.

      Asking folks to spend a bunch of leave during a global pandemic that could go on for who knows how much longer is shitty and any company who forces it without true need (because OP said they were getting their work done) is shitty

      1. Lana Kane*

        It forces people to drain whatever leave they have accumulated, which leaves them vulnerable once they burn through it. In essence, if they don’t get you now, they will get you later.

        1. Ell*

          Exactly. It’s a losing situation for parents, and even worse for single parents who can’t alternate care. There is no excuse that makes that forced choice ethical. Nobody predicted or was prepared for a crisis of this scale.

          1. Mary*

            Not that it helps, but a crisis of this scale has been predicted for literally decades. In fact, it’s been predicted that a much more deadly pandemic affecting most of the world is “inevitable”. This is a practice run, if you will.

            In my experience, most businesses (even the ones that do some disaster planning) tend to be reluctant to spend the kind of money and focussed attention required to actually be prepared. Ours is probably more proactive than most and there are definitely things that we could have prepared, knew about and didn’t do because we figured that in the event it was a problem the whole world would have a problem and cut us some slack.

            For the specific scenario above, I’d be tempted to get an app as well. I would advise following up with your boss who commented on the idle to double check that he or she shares your perception that you are in fact getting your work done on time and well. Not that I think your company is doing a smart thing regardless of whether your work was being completed correctly, but if your boss does think you are meeting expectations aside from the « idle » status and still brought it up then that makes me question his managerial abilities in a different way than if he was worried about you completing your job and saw that you additionally were idle more than expected. To be clear, it sounds to me like he has managerial issues either way, but in your shoes I would find it helpful to know which.

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      If the OP manages to get all of their work done on time, what does it matter if they idle a bit? No one is truly 100% efficient for all hours of the day, your output and ability to get your job done is what matters. Sure, you could argue if they’re spending half of their time not working then it’s a problem, but considering they get their work done, I’m going to assume that’s not the case. I’ve worked at places that mark you idle after only a few minutes of inactivity, I wouldn’t be surprised if this company operated similarly.

      And maybe the policy isn’t specifically discriminating against people with kids, but it will disproportionately affect people with kids.

      1. Chakhmal*

        Do we know for fact that OP is salaried worker and not hourly? If OP is hourly, company can pay less if OP is not working.

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          Not necessarily – referencing another recent letter, if OP needs to be available for work when it comes in, they’d have to pay them for the time waiting around since they’re essentially on call.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Your output and ability to get your job done are all that matter only if your management agrees that those are the two factors that matter. OP said their work is always done, yet OP’s management is asking why they have so much idle time. OP has to care about it because OP’s management cares about it.

    5. Quinalla*

      It is actually and if OP is getting all her work done, it doesn’t matter how much she is “idle” especially right now. It is foolish to worry about idle time if your employees are getting all work assigned done, if she starts not being able to complete her work, then she should consider leave, but until then it is utterly ridiculous for her to have to take leave in this very unique time. Companies need to be flexible! If not now, then when?

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      If OP is able to get her work completed correctly and on time, the time showing as idle is irrelevant.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Actually, it’s not. If OP is an hourly worker and/or the company states we want everyone to work during thee hours and be available, that is their call. OP doesn’t have to like it but the company can set that framework.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          This is what it sounds like. From what I’m gathering the employer is happy to pay for the OP to wiggle their mouse for 5 hours a day. And wants proof that they are performing the mouse wiggle.

          And as illogical as that may seem, it’s their prerogative. Does it make sense.. not really, but there could be a valid reason they are willing to do it (I can’t really think of one off the top of my head, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist)

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          There’s nothing in the letter stating OP is an hourly employee. And as long as she’s reachable, not being at her computer is not a big deal.

        3. aebhel*

          I’m not sure why you’re so determined to die on the hill of ‘this probably isn’t technically illegal, therefore it’s totally fine and acceptable and nobody should have a problem with it.’

          Companies *can* legally impose all sorts of discriminatory, rigid, stupid rules. That doesn’t mean those rules should be defended and celebrated.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            People can have all the problems they want with it, it is very normal to insist on certain hours, etc. It sucks for OP but she mentioned they will soon resume their normal busy schedule. Then what? I know many employers who want you available the hours they set whether you are busy or not.

            1. Taniwha Girl*

              These. Are. Not. Normal. Times.

              Employers can want things to be normal and people working back to normal but until the pandemic is OVER (it’s not over yet) and daycares and schools are open and people can go shopping without fear, employers are going to need to DEAL. You want the profits, you take the risk.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                And they can easily dump employees, dealing with it that way. It’s not fair nor right but that doesn’t matter, Many employers do unfair, wrong things and it is accepted and legal.

                1. Meepmeep*

                  Seriously, this is why I’m self employed. Too many employers who think this way.

                  OP, if you can somehow transition to self-employment, no matter in what area, you’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief.

    7. Batgirl*

      Bosses who are this inflexible when all the work is getting done ARE discriminatory. You see it in bosses who don’t mean to be ableist they truly don’t! They just won’t cut any slack because they are afraid a disabled person won’t cut it enough for accommodations and flexibility to pay off; even though they do.
      Similarly, here you have a parent who is getting the job done – but they aren’t getting it done while making it look familiar and conventional and nine to five-y. Familiar and conventional eases the fear of prejucice! So you dont have to overcome it. Working mothers and fathers know not to talk too much about their childcare to some bosses.
      Childcare, shmildcare..you’re supposed to have another, non employed person (a wife or your mother or some other helpful female) to look after children and it doesn’t matter if you’re getting all the work done if it doesnt look just like it used to. Before Coronavirus. In the fifties.

  13. A Simple Narwhal*

    Ugh this makes me so mad. I’m sorry OP, I hope you can push back as a group and management comes to their senses.

    Also I wonder if mentioning the possibility of lawsuits (not in a threatening way of course, but in the standard “I’m concerned we’re opening ourselves up to lawsuits…) might make HR actually do their job. They might default to siding with management but they might not be able to if that would create legal problems for them.

  14. Nethwen*

    This is one example of why I don’t think our framing should be “get back to normal” or “new normal.” I think it should be “find a way to thrive in the current reality.” Since the current reality is that parents need to devote more time to child care, then companies need to define success based on that reality, not the reality where their employees are able to devote all their attention to work during the work day.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      There will be no returning to pre-Covid normal until the virus is eradicated or everyone becomes immune to it…which is going to take at least a year (if a safe effective vaccine is developed and enough people get it) Companies need to realise that people venturing outdoors and into offices/shops etc. does not mean the virus has gone or that it’s not dangerous anymore.

      As hard as it is to comprehend for them, we simply can’t return to how things were.

  15. phedre*

    As a colleague at another organization told me, “we’re not working from home, we’re working from home DURING A PANDEMIC.” These are not normal times, and employers need to have a lot of empathy and compassion for their employees. So many people are stressed and scared, juggling child care and work, caring for another family member, and of course trying to do their actual jobs. It’s unrealistic and deeply shitty for managers to expect/demand the same level of productivity in these circumstances.

    I work for a nonprofit child care provider, and we’ve been open this whole time but due to COVID-19 restrictions (significantly lower child-teacher ratios, max # of people allowed in each location, etc.) we can serve a small fraction of the kids we typically do. Every other provider is in the same boat. We’re fielding tons of calls and emails from desperate parents begging for care, but we simply don’t have the space. If employers fire all of the parents who don’t have child care, who are they going to hire to replace them? Most people don’t have child care right now because there just isn’t the capacity right now.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I pulled my younger kid from daycare when the world closed in March, and I’m so grateful I had that option. This week, her daycare center reported three teachers contracted the virus and they’ll be closed until at least the end of next week. I can’t even imagine the stress level essential-worker parents are experiencing now that their care evaporated with no warning and they can’t place their kids anywhere else because of quarantine requirements.

      1. phedre*

        It’s so tough because families have very few options! Wealthy folks can pay for a nanny, but low/middle income families are in a really bad position. Thankfully my state is allowing people to go on unemployment if they can’t work because of a lack of access to child care, but I’m sure that will end at some point. Plus once the $600/week extra federal unemployment funds end at the end of July, financially it’s not feasible for a lot of people to stay home even with unemployment.

        Unfortunately lack of access to child care is only going to get worse. Child care providers are HEMORRHAGING money and many are going to go under unless there is significant government funding to support the sector. My org is projecting a $1.5M deficit for the next school year (out of a $6.5M total budget) solely due to COVID-19 because we can serve far fewer kids and have much higher staffing costs. This is due to the CDC/state Dept. of Health mandating much lower child-teacher ratios, smaller group sizes, a cap on the number of people allowed in each location, etc. We’re also looking at a giant decrease in revenue –typically we serve over 1,200 kids per year, but for the upcoming school year we’ll only have space for less than half of them.

        My org is going to be making some big cuts this summer and are probably having to increase our prices more than we want to (our mission is focused on affordability and expanding access, so the idea of raising prices is awful). We’re thankfully going to survive this pandemic, but there are a ton of child care providers who won’t. Affordable child care was already in short supply nationally and COVID-19 is going to make it much, much worse. And it especially sucks because families and schools are depending on child care providers like my org now more than ever to support kids’ academic and social-emotional learning and avoid COVID learning loss.

        1. Grapey*

          It all comes down to more funding for subsidized child care and education, pandemic or not.

          I get disheartened when I hear the expectation that relatives/friends are expected to watch kids for free – this perpetuates that SOMEONE’S unpaid labor is required to make society run.

          Many women that fought to work for real money don’t consider spending time with kids to be payment unless it pays the bills.

  16. Jen*

    Feel free to delete this, but it seems like desperate times call for desperate measures. Can you set something up on your computer that “activates” your mouse every few moments?

    1. Imprudence*

      You can buy “mouse jigglers” — my high school electronics student made me one. Not to defraud the boss, but to stop my pc logging me out and needing me to type in a stupidly long password every time I need the bathroom.

      But really, no, you shouldn’t have to do that,

    1. Sw*

      And its only Wednesday before noon. I’d ask how much worse, but I’m a little bit scared of the answer!

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      Y’all are all welcome to come join me and a couple other commenters on my couch with the cozy blankets and chamomile tisane. I’m starting to think both my kettles are going to be brewing pretty regularly this week.

      1. JustaTech*

        That’s healthier than Happy Hour starting … now.
        My “happy hour for the social committee” tomorrow afternoon is starting to look prescient. (I think we’re having happy hour because almost everyone on the social committee is, well, social and they’re sad and lonely that we aren’t having any parties.)

  17. Bertha*

    All this talk about “productivity” – what the heck can you even do if you finish all your work, and help others with their work, and then still have idle time? Help others.. more? Sounds to me like you’re being very productive. What a frustrating situation.

  18. voyager1*

    Not sure how old the child is and when this letter was originally submitted since AAM has said in the past letters can sit for a while. If the LW pushes back now in June be prepare for the whole “schools are out now” BS.

    I am thankful that my current employer is more understanding.

    Oh and trackers on work computers are not that uncommon at larger employers, especially in jobs that have sensitive information.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Schools being out now really doesn’t make a difference. Most (if not all depending on where you live) of the places that young children go when their parents are working are closed.

    2. Minuet*

      Friend of mine got that from his employer. “School is out, no excuse to work at home now.”

      Because younger kids can magically take care of themselves now, and there are plenty of older kids who can’t be left unsupervised even if there’s no legal obligation for them to be. I wouldn’t leave my high functioning autistic 12 year old home alone for anything based on the trouble she gets into while she *is* supervised. We’re fortunate we’ve been living with my parents so nothing much changed child care wise. But anyone who told me what my friend’s boss said would become my new sitter.

      1. Quill*

        “No excuse to work at home”

        It’s this fuzzy little virus that your friend’s boss might have heard of? Kills people? Does not actually give a flying duck about the school year, the state of your company’s finances, or the fact that this boss thinks kids just power down like robots and don’t need any care when school isn’t in session?


    3. Taniwha Girl*

      I don’t get that at all. Why would childcare be different in June/July, schools are closed, so there’s still no childcare..?

  19. Alex*

    It is one thing to be caring for your children whilst working, and this is clearly unavoidable for many at the current time, but it another entirely different thing to be attempting to home school during working hours. While employers should be allowing people the time they need to care for relatives (not just children, but also the elderly and disabled) during working hours where this is unavoidable due to the current situation, it is not reasonable to expect them to be as flexible in allowing home schooling which requires a higher level of interaction with the children and is not essential for the child’s welfare. Unfortunately, this is likely to mean that most home educating which requires active involvement on the part of the parents should take place outside of work hours.

    1. Anon Anon*

      I would argue that homeschooling is critical to a child’s welfare. I think employers have to continue to be flexible and allow employees to work outside of normal business hours for this very reason. Not to mention, I know that my friend’s school age kids are frequently on zoom calls (or the equivalent) with their teachers and classmates during the day. If you have limited bandwidth and/or your child is young you, you might have to present during that time.

      I do wonder if the OP has a spouse, and if so where he or she is in all of this.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        This – my twins are in kindergarten and had zoom calls every morning through the end of the school year. Many people referring to homeschooling right now really mean supervising remote learning via the school district.

        Am I supposed to withdraw my kids from school instead of taking a 15-minute break from working at home to make sure they have their materials printed and everything and get them logged in? I’m lucky that my kids’ remote learning was actually pretty easy to manage. There are plenty of second graders who had multiple calls a day, with assignments across multiple websites and platforms, and who aren’t old enough to manage it all themselves. And I kind of slacked off on it – I think my son spent a ton of his classes on mute when he wasn’t supposed to be, but I was upstairs working and didn’t notice – but judged that to be okay given his particular academic situation. A different kid/age/teacher/school setup could easily have required supervision.

      2. OP*

        Thank you. I agree with this so much. I cant just push my kids to the side until 5pm or 6pm. I do have to assist them with their schoolwork so it can be turned in by the deadline which is usually 3pm.
        My husband is extremely helpful but he also has work to do. And his job is way more demanding than mine (but they dont track him).

        1. Batgirl*

          I don’t agree with this poster at all but it’s kind of hard that the school are giving you daily deadlines. If you were one of my parents I’d take your job into account.

          1. Nita*

            Yes. ours gives a deadline of midnight. Not that it helps much, because if they’re not doing schoolwork they’re not magically taking care of themselves for 8 hours. Also the schoolwork takes hours and hours, so if we’d start at 6 PM we’d be done around midnight all right.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        Also, children’s welfare is actually very important overall and isn’t served by ignoring your kids for a full work day, at least at the younger ages. This pandemic has the potential, at least, to be a lasting trauma in their lives, and it’s not reasonable to expect that parents just work a normal day on a normal schedule.

        (I’m starting work earlier in the morning so I can take solid breaks through the day, working a bit later in the afternoon since I’m not commuting, being quite productive overall, and my employer’s happy with the setup.)

        Kids are experiencing the pandemic differently than adults – at least at age 6, my kids can’t get nearly as much value out of online connection to others as I do being on video calls and email and social media all day. They haven’t played with their friends in three months, and it’s going to be months more. They can’t play at the playground and aren’t getting enough physical activity, no matter how many walks and bike rides we do outside of work hours. They are watching far too much TV. Kids are overall more anxious, scared, lonely, bored, angry, etc. than normal, though of course it varies by kid and family.

        It’s one thing to have kids have to entertain themselves all day during a vacation, or every afternoon after school. Some boredom and free play is good for kids. But all day, every day, for months, while parents work is a whole different ball game, especially for only children or those who aren’t the right age to play with their siblings or who fight constantly with their siblings or whose siblings are incessantly mean.

        Parents need to be able to attend to their kids’ needs, both physical and emotional, during the workday right now. (That doesn’t mean parents need to be with their kids every moment – mine have several solid blocks of time each day when they know they have to play on their own or where they watch tv). Good employers will find ways to make it work – modified schedules and more flexibility, etc. Hopefully more child care will become available over time, and in some places schools will at least partially re-open. But employers shouldn’t just be telling all parents that they can put their kids aside for a normal workday without any modifications indefinitely, because it’s terrible for everyone.

    2. Val Z*

      But what’s the alternative? Kids not doing their school work? Parents quitting their jobs? Hiring a tutor? Those are not workable solutions for most families.

      1. Alex*

        The typical work week is 40 hours, out of a possible 168, and therefore it is more than possible to home educate in some of the other 128 and allow more free play during the 40 the parents need to be working. In some jobs it may be possible to schedule working hours to allow home schooling to take place during weekday daytimes and this should be encouraged where it wouldn’t have a significant impact on other employees and the work is not particularly time sensitive, but for others it may be that schooling has to take place during evenings and weekends. What is not possible, in the vast majority of cases, not least because non-exempt employees need to be paid for short breaks, is to intermittently educate in between work extending the working day.

        1. Anon Anon*

          So depending on the age of your kids, they need between 10-12 hours of sleep a night.

          If you work from 8a.m. to 5p.m. each day and take an hour for lunch, and your kids need to go bed at 8p.m., and say they wake up at 7a.m. That gives you 4 hours a day to feed, dress, and bath your kids. I can tell you that can take easily take 2-3 hours a day. So really you only have the weekends to homeschool them. Of course every teacher wants to have their zoom calls during traditional school hours. I don’t think the issue is always that an employee needs to put in their 40 hours of work, it’s when those hours are worked. Employers need to give employees the flexibility to work in the evenings and on the weekends. And to give an employee a break. If they are getting their job by only putting in 30-35 hours, then perhaps be happy that the work is being done.

        2. PhysicsTeacher*

          If these kids are young enough that their parent needs to be actively helping during a lot of their school time, it’s very likely that there are synchronous video call classes that they’re supposed to attend during the teacher’s work day (and therefore during the parent’s work day).

        3. Val Z*

          There are only so many hours in a day that you can expect a person to be productive. 8 hours of work + 4-6 hours of schooling your kids + time it takes to keep the household running during a time when everything is more complicated is just too much to expect.

        4. WellRed*

          Except lots of remote learning happens at scheduled times with other students. Also, young children are generally sharper in the morning. Also, if you really want to push your point about hours in the week, I’d argue the work can be done evenings and weekends.

        5. Guacamole Bob*

          I’m assuming that since OP works full time and this is a new problem that she’s supervising remote learning, not true homeschooling.

          In a lot of places it’s looking like the school year won’t start as normal in the fall – the kids have been doing remote learning for three months already, and it may go on for many months more. You’re proposing that all the kids who are too young to fully manage their own schoolwork without parent help who don’t have a nonworking parent or other adult around should just… skip class for months on end? Never go to office hours?

          Some of it can be done on weekends – we got permission to just do a week’s worth of homework worksheets on the weekend all at once. And we skipped the art activities and other stuff that wasn’t part of the core academics, since our district isn’t grading this quarter for elementary age kids. But even skipping and rescheduling as much as possible it still meant time during the workday. And I didn’t care much about my kids learning a lot and thought of it more as social connection and maintaining existing skills, but I had the luxury of doing that because they’re only in kindergarten and already have decent reading skills, and no special needs, so I have confidence they’ll be fine in the long run. Plenty of other kids need the academic time they’ve lost and this will be a big setback.

        6. leapingLemur*

          Alex, did you notice that the OP is getting all her work done and helping others? So what do they want, for her to sit at her computer with nothing to do, moving the mouse every so often?

          1. Ego Chamber*


            Source: the many jobs I’ve had where I got all the work done before the workday was over.

        7. Jaybeetee*

          I don’t even have kids and I see what’s wrong with this. It’s not flexible home-schooling that’s been happening. Kids are expected to log into video calls at certain times, submit assignments at certain times. Parents are expected to supervise and facilitate this. Older kids might be able to mostly manage this themselves, but younger kids need to be logged into each call, etc. That doesn’t even get into the practical feasibility of doing hours of home-schooling at night after work.

        8. Ash*

          Do you actually have young kids that you take care of while working from home? Because this answer is totally ignorant to the reality of what a young child needs during the day (INTERACTION, whether it be educational or not).

        9. somanyquestions*

          Your post went off the rails immediately when you decided people should just give up on sleep. You clearly don’t have any personal experience in this area, in any way, whatsoever, and the level of unearned authority which with you’ve chosen to speak is very telling.

        10. OP*

          I’m wondering if you have young kids or if your kids are older, if you remember how it was when they were young.
          To clarify, I’m not homeschooling in the actual meaning of the word. I do have to help my kids with their remote learning. There are zoom meetings during regular hours, there are assignments due by 3pm or it’s considered late, there are tests/activities that I must help my kids with as well that cannot wait until 5pm.
          But even if I did push my young kids aside until 5pm….how does dinner get done? How does other household tasks get done? When do I get to unwind (yes, moms need “me time” too)? If both my husband and I push our kids aside for hours until we are done with our work, nothing else around the house can get done.
          I even said in my original question that I do understand the employer’s position, but a little flexibility and understanding would be great on their end, especially for employees that always get their work done. And, I’m not keeping my kids home to save money on daycare or school fees, I literally don’t have any choice right now.
          If I were ever a manager, I would be more concerned with the work being done by the deadline rather than idle vs productive time.

        11. Batgirl*

          So, even though OP is completing her work and educating her children she should stop doing what works? Because her employer wants her to move her mouse around a bit more for form’s sake, she tell the children to “free play” (honestly, do you even know much about children) between 9 and 5 five days a week? But never mind, they can be educated/noticed in two whole days?!
          My job is to develop and teach children. If it’s possible to complete the child development I do in five days, in two days a week, why isnt it possible to do OP’s job in two days a week? Or yours?
          Contrary to popular belief we aren’t playing pattacake with kids so as to free you up for your more important, more necessary work. It’s vital to child welfare, their development and health that they are treated like they matter. Your plan could get by on a one off day, but for how long should their welfare be completely parked in this way?

        12. Quill*

          I think you’re deeply misunderstanding how distance learning is working. Depending on the district, it’s either logging in at specific times, classwork assigned in the morning to be turned in in the afternoon, downloading 6 different apps to track “gym at home” or any number of other things that are not flexible.

          Say you have one very competent and self entertaining 12 year old, who is supposed to be logged into a video app for one hour long course from 9 am to 10 am, scan a page of math problems, type up and submit one book report, and download an app to track their minutes of activity.

          You’re going to be playing tech support for at least 2 hours that day, because at least one of the three online activities is going to have problems. If you want the kid to eat a vegetable you’ll have to at least be nearby when they have lunch. At some point you will be asked how to plot a graph, what the wifi password is because their device logged off, and how to spell similie.

          OP appears to have a significantly younger child, so it is far more likely that they have to be even more involved in the technical aspects of schooling, and their kid is also going to need more supervision for normal household tasks. I expect a 12 year old to be able to make themselves lunch, depending on the kid you might have to check that it’s healthy. A five year old working the toaster? That is a much less comfortable event in your daily life.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Yes, this is a great explanation of what so many families are facing. My 6 year old is pretty competent at making herself a slice of toast, as it happens, and has fewer academic requirements than you describe but needs more support in other ways.

            It’s not just about making sure that kids are physically safe (fed, not lighting things on fire). Our kids are entire people who are also going through this pandemic experience with us, having to deal with their own challenges around working from home (which is essentially what distance learning is), and have less ability to get their social and emotional needs met without help than adults. Sometimes that means a parent needs to be away from their computer for 45 minutes in the middle of the afternoon. Most of the parents I know are finding ways to make it work – trading shifts, lots of tv, working in the evenings – but it requires at least a bit of understanding and flexibility from employers.

            1. Quill*

              My younger brother was banned from the toaster from the ages of 5 to 8, because, after putting peanut butter on his toast, he decided it wasn’t toasted enough…

              And we then had a new toaster that I was allowed to operate and he was not. :)

    3. AMK*

      Huh? Schooling is definitely important for the welfare of children. That’s why we the government mandates it for all children of a certain age (either through public school, private school, or homeschooling) and requires people to register how their children are being educated. It is considered neglect when children aren’t receiving education. So if it is OK to ensure your child’s welfare is OK during working hours right now, that includes educating them.

      1. Ash*

        Exactly, the federal government tried to argue that education (among many other basics) was *not* necessary for a child’s welfare during the family separation crisis at the border, and were ruled against because WTF?!

      2. Batgirl*

        We fine parents in the UK if they take one or two weeks holiday during term time. Just a fortnight a year can mean the difference between an entire grade on their end of high school qualifications.
        I tutor kids with chronically poor attendance who are usually lovely and just unlucky in various ways. These are kids who are exhausted trying to keep up, have no self confudence and if they don’t get their literacy levels up in time can usually be traced directly into the prison system.

    4. AmberEliza*

      Every single working parent I know had to “homeschool” for the past 3 months. It wasn’t optional. It wasn’t “try your best.” It was, do this or your child will be held back. It’s fairly obvious you don’t have children at home, please try to be a little more compassionate.

      1. 2020storm*

        That last sentence was all I could think. I’M the one trying to work at night while my child sleeps. How incredibly sad it is that I’m LUCKY my company lets me do so.

      2. Nita*

        And it’s not even homeschooling. We did homeschooling for the one week when school had closed but they hadn’t yet figured out the online class thing. It was heavenly. What we’re doing now is not homeschooling. I don’t know how to call it, but if I was deciding how to teach my kid I would not force him to do his math worksheets on a computer screen, his reading on a computer screen, and everything else on a computer screen. I would not force him to do more than he could comfortably do in three hours. I’d TALK to him instead of shoving videos and spreadsheets at him. That’s all gone out the window because this thing the school is doing is eating up our whole day.

        1. DataSci*

          Right! The distance learning situation was the worst of both worlds – 100% of responsibility for teaching the kid falls on the parents, but we had 0% input into setting the curriculum or choosing how it would be taught.

    5. Lana Kane*

      My 8 year od just wrapped up his school year. I woudnt call what I did homeschooling because I only had to help occasionally. But even if I did have to full-on homeschool, what’s the alternative?We’ve all been placed in impossible positions, and it’s a measure of a company’s values if they decide to make you do all that work after hours – which depletes the employee and still leaves the issue of having to care for that child during the day.

      If we can’t adjust expectations during a pandemic so that we actually care for our employees, then why would we expect them to want to stay? I would start looking for something else immediately.

      1. Batgirl*

        Most parents and teachers know that current ‘homeschooling’ is not like the kind where people opted to do it. It’s well known that their teacher is still setting work, giving feedback etc and that parents are mostly supervising etc.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I don’t have kids, but I have run several zoom ‘lectures’ for my nieces and nephews on various science (specifically virology) topics, each lasting about a half hour to an hour. From what I gather from my various relatives the kids are *not* being schooled all day. They have set times for ‘watch instructional video’ or ‘do some writing or maths’ but it’s at most a couple of hours a day.

      And some of my sisters in law ARE teachers! They’re still not doing full time schooling with their kids during this. It’s more ‘keeping the kid’s skills from getting rusty’ than ‘full time homeschooling’

      (Again, I don’t have or want kids so I’m no expert on this! Running those virology lectures for a bunch of 7-8 year olds was FUN for me though! I hope OP can find a way to get her company off her neck)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        (I’m basically saying that no, the current state of affairs doesn’t mean a person is trying to run a full school day on top of doing her day job. Her company should allow for breaks during the day to check on the kids etc. though! Good grief, my husband gets more than 2 15 minutes breaks a day to make sure his disabled wife – me- hasn’t face planted the floor. Again)

    7. Joielle*

      I mean, I do think homeschooling kids is important right now, but I also didn’t really see why the times couldn’t be changed. If the OP absolutely has to be at work 8-5, can the kids be allowed to goof off during the day and intensive parts of homeschooling be saved for a few hours after dinner? It’s not ideal, but being fired from your job during a pandemic seems even less ideal. I guess it depends how young the kids are and whether they can mostly occupy themselves during the day.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Most kids are not at their best in the evenings in terms of focused academics. Plus, we don’t have “a few hours” after dinner – we finish eating at 6:30, and they have to start getting ready for bed at 7:30.

      2. Dahlia*

        One, zoom classes can’t be re-scheduled because one kid’s parents’ job is being a jerk.

        Two, kids have limits. There’s a reason a lot of parents call the evening-bed hours the witching hour.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          Even as an adult I have a “witching hour!” Humans weren’t made to be 100% productive 100% of the time. We all need down time, and we need it throughout the day but especially at the end of the day. Heck, even my business honors college professors advocated taking brain breaks every 90 minutes…and they would be the least likely candidates for advocating “goofing off” if that’s what we’re going to call not actively working every minute of the day.

      3. Anonymom*

        If its actual homeschooling? Yes.

        Distance learning because of the pandemic though? Not so much. My own children had set in-person Zoom calls with their teachers during the school day. They had work to do with discreet deadlines.

      4. A Non E. Mouse*

        I mean, I do think homeschooling kids is important right now, but I also didn’t really see why the times couldn’t be changed. If the OP absolutely has to be at work 8-5, can the kids be allowed to goof off during the day and intensive parts of homeschooling be saved for a few hours after dinner? It’s not ideal, but being fired from your job during a pandemic seems even less ideal. I guess it depends how young the kids are and whether they can mostly occupy themselves during the day.

        I think it was more “schooling at home” than “homeschooling”, which makes a huge difference.

        For my three, the oldest two were autonomous (high schoolers) but the youngest had scheduled meeting times and such that fell during the day, and I had to help him with. Even the high schoolers had during-the-day stuff that had to happen at a certain time, they were just able to take care of that themselves.

        There was no shifting the work to later times – the assignments and teachers availability were during the daytime hours, exactly when I am also working.

      5. Taniwha Girl*

        “Goof off” for 8+ hours a day with no supervision so OP can wiggle their mouse all day?
        And then start dinner after 5 and eat it as fast as possible so you can start catching them up on all their school assignments (which most schools have been sending out during the day, and I guess the kid has just been missing any zoom classes scheduled?)
        And then finish and start getting ready for bed–oh yeah, bedtime for most young children is between 7-9pm.

        So you have 2-4 hours to make and eat dinner, catch up on any and all schoolwork, and get ready for bed?

        Have you cared for children before? Because this schedule isn’t reasonable.

      6. DataSci*

        Do you have kids? For younger elementary school, like ages 5-8, there’s not a “few hours” after dinner -more like one – and they’re tired and not at all at their best then. I would just stop doing the assignments and say “sure, make him repeat first grade” before I’d try to cram in all his lessons between dinner and bedtime.

    8. Inca*

      The thing you missed for starters is that she’s completing the work just fine. So there’s really nothing to allow: she’s productive.

      Also, maybe we should start from the life of people. Sometimes it’s like humans exist only to benefit employers, but, see, we’re human first. Work is part of that, but not to the detriment of actually being human, being a parent, living, having relationships with other people. *Especially* when it’s not even about productivity, but about the illusion of activity regardless of actual usefulness.

      The answer that seems to be mentioned most is some mechanical device that tricks the monitoring software into registering something. What does that tell you about the problem to which that is the answer?

    9. aebhel*

      Right, every child with working parents should just repeat a grade! God forbid employers are inconvenienced!

    10. Meepmeep*

      Wait wait – school is not essential to the child’s welfare? We do want an educated populace, right? What is going to happen to all the kids whose parents consider school “inessential” and therefore don’t teach them anything?

      Whether we like it or not, the schools are unavailable now. That means that someone at home has to be educating the kids. Not educating them is not an option.

      And what do you perceive as adequate caretaking of the kid? Locking them up in a kennel and throwing in food and water? Kids need interaction and socialization, and you can’t just ignore them from 9-5 every day.

    11. Pomona Sprout*

      UGH. I’m not even going to TRY to write a real reply to this, because my state of mind right now is somewhere between flames on the side of my face and smoke coming out of my ears, and I don’t think I could compose a calm, rational response to save my life.

      I don’t even have a job OR a school aged child right now, but I was a working parent the entire time my daughter was growing up, and if I had ever had to deal with what the parents of school aged kids have been forced to deal with during this pandemic, I don’t know how I could have coped. Especially if I’d had a douche bag boss like this OP’s.

      Anyone who has never had to juggle a family and a job during normal times (much less the dumpster fire we’re living in right now) really needs to take a seat and NOT spout off about things of which you behave absolutely no knowledge. That is all.

  20. Anon Anon*

    I think one of the issues that I think many people are running into is that there is the perception among some that the pandemic is over just because the stay-at-home orders have been lifted. It hasn’t. It’s ongoing. And it will be probably until there is a vaccine. And as a result things like childcare and schooling are going to be more challenging and employers are going to have to continue to be more flexible than they were pre-COVID. For example, our public schools are slated to reopen in the fall, but there is a very good chance that kids won’t be going back to school every day (so that social distancing can be maintained), and that the already very limited childcare spots will become even more limited.

    1. Genny*

      Good point. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see something similar to what China is experiencing now: a rash of localized outbreaks and the temporary re-closure of schools and other venues in that area until the latest outbreak is under control. Lather, rinse, repeat until there’s a more long-term solution (whether that’s natural herd immunity, a vaccine, or something else).

      1. Alternative Person*

        This is what’s on my radar as where I am snapped basically back to normal as soon as the stay-at-home order lifted. Some places, including schools are on limited schedules at least until July, but morning rush hour is back to normal and people are back sitting in restaurants and piling onto trains.

        One of my friends is scrambling to make everything line up to move to a new apartment ASAP in case there’s a spike in cases again.

    2. A Non E. Mouse*

      Also: usually by the end of May I would have already had my spot in before/afterschool care secured for my youngest for the next school year that starts in August.

      They haven’t even *opened* enrollment yet for that – because they don’t know what the school year will look like.

      An awful lot of us are going to have to scrabble together care, even during the school year for school aged children. Thankfully my employer is flexible, but a significant portion of the working population is going to have this problem – it’s asinine for an employer to pretend it’s not going to impact work going forward.

      The whole childcare system in this country was already precarious – this just hastened the house of cards falling down.

      1. Anonymom*

        Exactly. Typically I have summertime care figured out by mid-May (for a mid-June school year end), registered, paid for, all dates confirmed, etc.

        Know when my district sent out notice that we’d actually HAVE summer camps available*? June 8th. School got out the 12th. This wasn’t a registration notice or anything, just notice that they’d be available*. (Available* – half the capacity of a typical year, limited hours that wouldn’t work with my schedule anyways, no field trips, rules and regulations on food/lunchs/etc.) Registration starts on the 22nd. Camp starts July 6th.

        So….yay that we have options back? Thankful that my employer’s been reasonable!

  21. Mathou*

    What about asking for more time-flexibility ? A company which tracks its employees seems so rigid that they might not be open to that, but maybe you could ask to work early in the morning or in the evening, in order to work when you are not babysitting.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        If you’re going to object to conflating parenting with babysitting, please don’t conflate assisting a child’s distance learning with homeschooling.

        It’s bad out there right now with frustrated parents saying shit like “Why should we pay teachers for this year if we’re doing all the homeschooling ourselves?” and it gets worse every time someone erases the teacher leading the Zoom classes by pretending parents are totally on their own here.

  22. Jam Today*

    The only good thing to come out of all of this is that it is lifting the lid on the sheer amount of pettiness, capricious cruelty, and outright malice that employers bear towards their employees. The more exposure of this the better, although I do wish we could know who these companies are so that we could avoid giving them our money (I know employees will face retaliation so I am not faulting anyone for keeping it anonymous.)

    1. Anon Anon*

      I agree. I just wish it wasn’t happening at a time with double digit unemployment, where people are desperate enough to not care that employers are being crappy.

      1. OP*

        I dont know if I’m allowed to say it. I could sort of hint to the company if this is allowed, if not please remove it Alison.
        I work for a insurance company who has a color in its name. But this industry in general is known for not treating employees well.

        1. LimeRoos*

          Ope. Yep, also work in insurance and this does not surprise me at all. I got lucky with a fantastic non-profit insurance company, but yeah, I’ve heard so many stories of the micromanagement in the larger/for profit companies. We are still hiring, just at about 50% of what we normally do, so there is hope if you want to start looking.

        2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Ooh I HAVE that insurance company. It says on our portal that they are only covering COVID though May 31.

          And if you go to the ER for anything, and it turns out your diagnosis wasn’t life threatening (not your symptoms, but your final diagnosis…meaning you need to self-diagnose at home before seeing the doctor), you aren’t covered. So f–k them.

        3. L Dub*

          I know I commented upthread somewhere, but that’s the same place I worked as well. From what you’ve said, my experience matches yours, although I’m guessing we likely worked in different states.

        4. Red Light Specialist*

          And unfortunately, due to employer-provided health insurance, we can’t boycott or comparison shop insurance companies. You get what you get (or don’t). Yet another problem with that system.

    2. Sunset Maple*

      There are several subreddits that are tracking bad company behavior during Covid, but I’m having trouble finding them at the moment. Hopefully skilled users/subscribers can post the names.

    3. Meepmeep*

      Hey, if this sparks a movement toward more rights for workers in this country, I’m all for it.

  23. Genny*

    As someone who was homeschooled, I definitely agree about not framing the current situation as homeschool. The entire point of homeschooling is flexibility (to meet the child’s educational needs, to select your own curriculum, to complete tasks at your own pace, etc.). What you’re doing is distance learning. Classes are set at specific times, homework is due at specific times, you have little or no control over school-related decisions, etc. You don’t have anywhere near the flexibility that homeschoolers have. You know that, but it sounds like you’re bosses are very much out of touch. Anything that implies you have more flexibility than you do isn’t going to help your cause.

  24. Steveo*

    The purpose of ALL HR departments is to protect the company. Even when they are doing something that seemingly protects you, in the end the over arching goal is protecting the company from legal, business, or PR issues.

  25. Employment Lawyer*

    You made a mistake by bringing your kids into it, as I’m sure you realize (but just to point out for other folks.)

    IMO, it would have been much better to point out that people are different in work habits. Some folks–I am also like you in this respect–are really fast but take more breaks; other folks (like someone else in my firm) is much slower but steadier. What I’d want to know is why they are switching to a “how busy are you?” model instead of a “does your work get done?” model. Do they plan to fire all of the smart-fast-more-breaks people? Why do they actually care? Also, lots of those systems rank “busy time” as “doing things,” but your job also requires thinking. And there’s a split as well: Some folks think first and then act; other folks think while they act; it makes little sense to arbitrarily say that the second group is “busier” much less “better.”

    Anyway, what’s done is done. At this point there may not be much you can do. Absent some sort of unusual circumstance they are probably not required to pay you for full hours while you are also taking care of your kid. And if you claim now that you’re just a “work fast in spurts” or “think and then work” kind of person, they will think you’re lying to take care of your kid.

    You may want to try negotiating for part time if you think you will otherwise get fired, though that’s a difficult solution. And you can always try a statistical-sexism, affects-women-more, argument–difficult, albeit probably well founded.

    Check w/ a lawyer.

    1. 2020storm*

      This response drips with disdain, as I’m sure you realize (but just to point it out for you).

      IMO, her employer should have a shred of decency, and so should you.

    2. Amtelope*

      But the problem is, undeniably, that parents have to care for their children right now, because regular child care options aren’t available. Pretending that the problem is actually something else seems ridiculous. Employers should make reasonable accommodations to deal with this crisis, and if they don’t, I’d advise their employees to seek other jobs.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        It’s illogical. If I need workplace accommodations for my various disabilities for instance, I’m not going to invent some other reason so that I don’t actually admit to my employer that I’m disabled in any way.

        Facts are that people forced to care for their kids at home, or care for other relatives in general because there’s no other way, have some extra needs that this pandemic has put on them. It’s not their fault and there’s no benefit in pretending that actually everything is back to normal just to keep management happy.

    3. Bend & Snap*

      Yuck. Kids are the reason she’s having a hard time. I’m a single parent working at home with my 6 year old and it’s brutal for both of us.

      Luckily i have an understanding employer. But the LW’s best path isn’t to pretend she doesn’t have a family and that current circumstances aren’t making things difficult.

    4. Important Moi*

      I actually don’t think it drips with disdain. Maybe the language is not a soft as some would like? I will concede that LW is probably concerned about the things mentioned in the response. During a pandemic is not a good time to find out that your employer has different values than you to the point you have monitor your phrasing, but Employment Lawyer is not wrong. Words matter. Employment Lawyer just sounds like a lawyer.

      Rather than negotiating for part time if you think you will otherwise get fired, LW could contact her boss and say I’ve restructured by work day and will be blah, blah and blah to ensure I get everything done as I’m supposed to. I was overwhelmed when we spoke, I’ve got things under control now.

    5. Elbe*

      I disagree. The LW was right to mention their children. The time issue is a need, not a preference.

      The issue is absolutely not “I work better on X schedule ” and framing it this way isn’t an accurate portrayal. The situation is: “The world is upside down and there is literally no other person who can provide my children with necessary care during business hours.”

    6. Employment Lawyer*

      [shrug] You want me to Gertrude to make your happy so you don’t raise a tone argument? Nah. I don’t have “disdain” and I certainly know it sucks for the OP, I am primary for my kids most of the time. But I do not trade accuracy for compassion.

      Remember: The employer’s problems are not your problems. If you work, you need to get paid. If they have a bad week, a fire, a dead CEO, or whatever, they still need to pay you. If there is CV and they lose their business, they still pay you. If their contracts are cancelled, they still need to pay you. And so on.

      Unfortunately, the reverse is also true; your problems are your own. If you lose childcare, transport, or anything else, then you can get fired for that.

      And frankly, when it comes to advice, I’m not sure how “wishing that the OP was employed by someone else who would decide to take on OP’s issues” is really going to do anything. The number of cases won by “wishing for the other side to give you what they already refused to give” is approximately zero.

      If OP can’t do the job they risk getting laid off.
      If OP would rather work part time than risk getting laid off, OP can address that.

      As for talking about family: Childcare issues aren’t usually protected (though it may vary by state.) You can raise it if you want but it’s a bit of an ultimatum and it’s dumb to do it IMO unless you consider the possible response may be “OK, see ya.”

      By relying on kids you have a powerful argument, but on which is inherently limited to a smaller pool of employees, namely those w/ bad childcare. That can be a bad move, especially as an entry to negotiations.

      Again, check w/ a local lawyer to see if you have any leverage under any provision of a state law, especially anything which covers FMLA-type leave, sick leave, etc.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I think you’re missing the point. This isn’t one person’s random childcare issue. This is an insurmountable challenge posed by a global pandemic that leaves working parents with few to no options.

        These are unprecedented times and employers can’t just decline to work with employees without damaging morale.

        Also, I doubt the LW is alone in this dilemma.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        In normal times you may be right. But there is nothing she can do. This isn’t a childcare issue like they cant get a babysitter. This is a global pandemic that affects everyone. Childcare is closed and shes going to be interrupted periodically by her kids. The employer needs to consider how this affects their employees. Plus, she’s getting her work done. They are paying her to do x and it’s getting done in a timely manner. Its
        Literally because there weren’t so many keystrokes or whatever they use to track as idle time.

      3. Taniwha Girl*

        I don’t see how an employer who doesn’t care about an argument as compelling as “there’s no childcare because PANDEMIC” is going to be swayed by an argument based on OP’s work speed preferences.

      4. Meepmeep*

        And that’s the point at which she leaves and the company staffs itself with monks who have no families and no family issues, and who live on-site in a monastery and are carefully monitored so that they never have an impure thought that’s not about the company?

    7. NW Mossy*

      There will always be a group of people to whom mentioning one’s children is a mistake. That said, if the OP is like most people, she likely admitted her children’s existence to others at work prior to the pandemic. Her employer is not so stupid that they can’t put “existence of children” and “schools/daycares closed” together and come up with “she’s probably doing some amount of childcare/schooling during daylight hours.”

      Even if she’d not specifically named the issue, they’ll see through the lie. And let’s give the OP credit for not wanting to lie or misdirect.

    8. Roger Emerson Doe*

      No, she needs to be honest about why she needs this schedule. During this time employers really do need to be flexible given the changed circumstances. This is a fact of life of this pandemic. Normally people get childcare or kids have school. If this is not the case, like it is now, then changes need to be made. I have people who work different hours because their internet kicks them off in the middle of the day. It would be dumb for them to give another excuse.

    9. BBA*

      Anyone else so tired of pretending to the powers-that-be that the decisions they make are totally fine when they’re actually unnecessary/arbitrary/ridiculous AND make people’s lives more more difficult or even downright impossible? That every crappy policy is A-OK? That they’re leadership is probably fine because they’re not getting any pushback? That the circumstances of our lives and our material needs aren’t real? Like I get that this advice is meant to protect people in a power differential, but 2020 just doesn’t feel like the time to keep using this approach.

  26. RecentAAMfan*

    Your company is being horrible.
    Even if you weren’t able to be as fully productive as usual, this attitude would be pretty crappy. But given that you’re actually getting all your work done, it’s SUPER crappy.

  27. Amethystmoon*

    How are they tracking idle vs. productive? Key strokes? If that is the case, can you buy a wireless keyboard and carry it around the house with you, typing random keys as needed so it thinks you’re being productive? There are usually technical ways around things like that.

    What do they do normally when employees are waiting for work to come in and have down time? Is there never any actual down time in your job? (That would be very unrealistic in most office jobs, to expect there to be zero down time.) What are people supposed to do if they literally have nothing to do? I mean yeah, there are ways of looking busy in an office setting, but looking and actual are different things.

    1. Roger Emerson Doe*

      Employers seem to be ok with people in an office standing around and talking, surfing the internet, going for a million smoke breaks, but once you move back to your house….it just seems like all of a sudden EVERY MINUTE counts. Eventhough often the productivity is higher at home.

      My own company is SHOCKED at how well everyone is doing, even given the circumstances and kids and everything. They were old school and resisted WFH for a long time. I hope some things relax (things I already did in my own division because I thought the company line was islly)

  28. La Triviata*

    Things need to change. I don’t have children, so I don’t have these issues. But the tracking software … it’s like the companies that require people to be at their desks, regardless of how much they can accomplish in less time. I’m hoping that these situations will change, although I don’t know how much they can. And really – two 15-minute breaks plus one unpaid half-hour lunch break? Even if OP was working in an office, with a sandwich packed from home, it strikes me as draconian.

    And as to sharing child care with a partner; there was an article in the Washington Post about a women who was working hard to try to keep her company afloat. Her husband, after something like three days, decided caring for their young child was too hard, so he’d get the child to interrupt her rather than taking care of whatever it was himself. She ended up giving up her work so the child wouldn’t be left unattended. And I believe she was the main breadwinner.

    1. The Original K.*

      If it’s the article I’m thinking of, not only did she give up her work, she shut down the company she owned and ran so her staff had to give up their work as well.

      1. J*

        That’s the one. She worked in software and intentionally hired women and POC. And then laid them all off because he couldn’t “handle” parenting by himself. He’s not working currently. I know everyone is fighting battles I know nothing about, but damn that article had me steamed. And I’m childfree by choice. I’ll link it in another comment. (Or google “Washington Post ‘I had to choose being a mother’: With no child care or summer camps, women are being edged out of the workforce”)

        1. Alternative Person*

          Same. I couldn’t believe in this economy that man could inflict so much damage not just to his wife, but to his own family, the people who worked for his wife’s company, people he likely knew who needed jobs, and with a lowered likelihood of being able to set up a new company when the economy starts to recover, just because he didn’t care to take care of the child he helped father. Did he even care? How could he do that?

          If she ever needs an alibi, I’m here for her.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            In his defense, the bar for “helped father” tends to be like 10 minutes, tops, so a lot of dudes really are oblivious to the amount of time their partner is biologically obligated to put in, just in a cishet context. (This isn’t a real defense because there is none, a lot of cishet men are terrible at parenting and are allowed to continue being terrible because of social pressures and there are few reliable methods to screen for that in advance.)

    2. Jaybeetee*

      This was one of the biggest reasons I couldn’t hack call centre work. It was just gogogo constant calls, except for the legally require scheduled breaks – that is, 2 15s and a 30. I’m more of a “work in spurts” person when left to my own devices, and tend to get things done faster than most. The constant grind in a call centre burnt me out so fast.

      1. OP*

        That’s exactly how I work….I work in spurts. I work for a bit nonstop then take a rest or start prepping dinner or do something else. Working like this is best for me and it’s how I can get all my work done.
        Being forced to just sit in a chair all day is just ridiculous in my opinion. It will be difficult for me. And we dont even be on the phone much. I can go weeks without a call at work so it’s not even about making sure no calls are missed.

        1. Batgirl*

          Yeah, how dare you work quickly and efficiently without constantly draaaaagging things out?!

    3. Amethystmoon*

      2 15 minute breaks + lunch is what we get except we can take the full hour for lunch, but we have to stay later. Though I don’t think anyone is keeping track of things like bathroom breaks, at least that I know of.

  29. ArtK*

    Ah, “warm seat time.” I quit a job where the executives valued butt-in-chair more than actual productivity. I got all my work done with good quality and on time. Not my fault that they didn’t have enough work to keep me occupied the full day.

    A lot of management is measurement and evaluating those measurements. The first step is to make sure that what you’re measuring actually relates to what you want to accomplish. Warm seat time is easy to measure but doesn’t correspond, at all, to actual productivity. But actual productivity is harder to measure in a lot of cases, so the company takes the easy way out.

  30. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

    OP, I am so sorry that you are dealing with this. I wanted to chime in on the emergency leave. Alison lists it as under the CARES Act – it’s actually the FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) which was passed before CARES. If your employer qualifies (it employs fewer than 500 employees), you have a ton of protections there. It’s not just that you can take time off (even partial days!) and get 2/3 pay in order to care for your child, it’s also that availing yourself of this leave GIVES YOU JOB PROTECTION. Meaning that your employer HAS to give you your normal job back at the end of any leave period (there are some exceptions for companies with under 50 employees, but they are complicated and not always worth the trouble for the employer). And the leave is for up to 12 WEEKS. I realize you may not actually want to take off for 12 weeks, but that is a very long time to have job protection, which is what you really need here. So please please look into this, and alert your fellow employees with young kids to look into it. And I wouldn’t ask HR “if” it applies to your situation – I would ask them to grant you FFCRA leave for “x” hours per day and put the pressure on them to respond appropriately. Best of luck.

    1. emmelemm*

      Unfortunately, based on something OP has mentioned above, she works for a very, very large employer.

      1. L Dub*

        It’s not as large as you think – each state this company operates in is considered a different employer. So, the Minnesota office for this company is one employer, the Iowa office for this company is another employer, etc.

        Depending on the state the OP is in, their office may have fewer than 500 employees. The office I was in definitely had more than 500 employees, but we were one of the largest offices in the country.

  31. Welcome to the Hellmouth*

    This may be a stupid question, but aren’t kids finished with the school year by now? I realize OP would still have to worry about supervision for her children, but I’m not sure why she is still homeschooling.

    1. PhysicsTeacher*

      In the US, this is regional. My school year finished late May, but some places go through the end of June. NYC doesn’t finish until June 26 this year.

      1. Batgirl*

        Wow really? In the UK we dont finish till mid July for a school year staring in September.

    2. QED*

      Some states go longer–some New York schools for example, just ended on Friday, some may still be going. Usually the NYC schools end in late June, so they may still be going. Also, kids may have summer school; again, to use an example district, NYC said that more kids were being required to attend remote summer school in order not to be held back than in other years. Some charter schools can also be year-round.

      Of course, this letter was also likely written a few weeks ago. But still.

    3. OP*

      I did write this about 2 weeks ago. But the issue still applies. My oldest have to do summer school and the young ones will be home because camps in my area have limited capacity now and I cant get my kids in.
      We’re still looking and hoping we can find a suitable camp that still has openings but its nesr impossible where I live to find one.

      1. CheerfulPM*

        I know it’s not the point of your letter, but I did want to offer the idea of a babysitter for even a few days and hours a week was a game changer. (Your company really stinks and I’m so sorry that they haven’t come around to realizing that this is a completely different time than pre-covid.)

        Not sure of your comfort level with bringing someone into the home, but my husband and I have found that local high schoolers are pretty easy to come by. We did vet ours on their precautions pretty thoroughly (she lives with her elderly grandparents and neighbors vouched that they haven’t seen her out and about).

        Good luck and stay well.

  32. Marie D*

    I’ve been reading AAM for about 10 years. I’m an office worker (9-5). At my last job (legal service agency with attorneys and support staff), we UNIONIZED because after most of us were there for 3 years (there was a big hiring boom and most staff were hired in at the same time), we got tired of HR/upper management jerking us around with inconsistent and often unworkable policies.

    I think office workers should consider unionizing more and I think it should be encouraged more on this blog. It’s not just for traditional blue collar workers or workers in the public (government) sector. Plenty of office workers at private corporations unionize. Why should your boss hold all the power? Why shouldn’t staff have a seat at the table? Employment should be a two way street: you perform service and the corporation pays you.

    I’m in Michigan so we have a big UAW presence, and if any office workers in MI want to organize, I’d recommend searching for your local UAW office and asking if they organize office workers. If you live out of state, do the same but broaden your search for office worker unions.

    Unionizing was a long hard road for us, but we won our election. If you and your coworkers think the policies at your workplace are crazy and out of line, consider unionizing. What better way to secure better working conditions AND your job that joining a union?

    Start here for some pointers: https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/labor-employment/b/labor-employment-top-blogs/posts/is-it-time-to-start-a-union-at-your-workplace

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      100% agree. AAM often says it is better to push back as a group and the best way to push back as a group is by being in a union

  33. Important Moi*

    I actually don’t think it drips with disdain. Maybe the language is not a soft as some would like? I will concede that LW is probably concerned about the things mentioned in the response. During a pandemic is not a good time to find out that your employer has different values than you to the point you have monitor your phrasing, but Employment Lawyer is not wrong. Words matter. Employment Lawyer just sounds like a lawyer.

    Rather than negotiating for part time if you think you will otherwise get fired, LW could contact her boss and say I’ve restructured by work day and will be blah, blah and blah to ensure I get everything done as I’m supposed to. I was overwhelmed when we spoke, I’ve got things under control now.

  34. Vistaloopy*

    Alison, since the OP is a healthcare provider, she likely would not be eligible for the special family leave you referenced. I had the same issue and was told by my HR that healthcare providers are exempt from the law. I had to take unpaid leave (after my PTO ran out) to care for my daughter when her daycare was closed due to COVID.

  35. Elbe*

    This company sounds absolutely terrible and I hope they either mend their ways ASAP or get sued.

    “They also won’t allow us to make up any idle time after work hours.”
    Why?!? Unless the work requires other team members to complete, why wouldn’t they allow flexibility here? If there’s no legitimate need, then it’s just mean spirited.

    I get the sense that the higher-ups here are those paranoid types that will burn the world to the ground just to avoid having to feel like they’re being cheated. They’d rather every parent lose their job than have one employee not work 100% of their hours, even if all of the work is completed. It’s so destructive and petty.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      It’s illegal to let employees to work unpaid to make up for time where they were unproductive/idle but were still working/on the clock. That’s not flexibility, it’s exploitation.

      I think your sense of the employer is correct, since they’re classifying employees as “idle” or “productive” instead of “moving the mouse around” or “not moving the mouse,” when the latter would be accurate.

  36. Don't Spew Nonsense*

    Tell your supervisor: “I have enough work that I finish within 3 hours. Are you going to send me more work, or do you really want me to type random things so it looks like I’m working a full 8 hours? Please let me know why and how I should stretch 3 hours of work into 8.”

    Push. Back.

    1. Elbe*

      This employer is nasty and they very well could let her go if she mentions she’s not fully utilized. Or they could fire someone else and double her workload, which would cause additional strain right now.

      If I were her I would just push back on not being able to complete the same amount of work time over different hours.

      1. Don't Spew Nonsense*

        The employer already knows they don’t have enough work. Unless they believe the staff is super inefficient. I’d ask specifically “What else can I do?”.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          I would keep asking it as well, and document how many times the question was asked and management responded with “There is no work” or “Let me see” and then never replied again.

  37. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’m wondering if they’d be at all receptive to a clear, concise plan, like “I’ve no option but to keep my kids at home and they require supervision. So how about we set up a defined metric of work done per day that I have to do and I’ll ensure that the time I have to spend with my kids doesn’t prevent me from doing that work”

    For what it’s worth I’m beyond furious that any company expects 100% computer use all day and only allows 2 breaks. I get through more than that just going to the loo! (Only allowed 3 times a day? Hahaha no, not happening)

  38. Roger Emerson Doe*

    Could you ask to work different hours? I know I lose out on some productivity during the day and then I just sign in after he goes to sleep. Although I’m not monitored like this, but it could help if you could work later in the day ?

    Also, I hate your workplace.

  39. Jaybeetee*

    The idea that you can’t be away from your desk apart from standard breaks not only ignores family realities right now, but a host of medical or personal issues people could have (i.e. frequent bathroom breaks or similar). It’s horrendously antagonistic and micromanagey, not to mention callous and insensitive. LW, if I were you I’d talk with other colleagues about this and push back with whatever capital you have. Management doesn’t seem to see you even as people right now. m

    I’m kidless and live alone. From what I’ve seen of my colleagues, the ones with older kids are doing okay, but the ones with toddlers or kindergartners at home are exhausted, basically trading childcare shifts with spouses and working in between. It’s just a reality that people have kids at home now, and those annoying munchkins need to be occasionally fed and prevented from burning the house down.

  40. Lady Heather*

    OP, if you look into any of the software that several readers talk about, please also look into the software that is installed on your pc – you can probably find a sales pitch or newspaper article somewhere that talks more in-depth about what it does.

    There was an interview with someone from Interguard in the newspaper here – apparently it lets employers pick what counts as idle vs productive, e.g. they can say that any time spent on Outlook is idle and any time on Excel is productive, and they can make screenshots every few seconds, log keystrokes, etc.
    If the tracker is something like, I wouldn’t try a virtual or manual ‘mouse wiggler’ – that would look a helluvalot suspicious, and being fired for being ‘too idle’ might let you collect unemployment insurance where being fired for ‘having a mouse wriggler’ might not.

    Be careful.

  41. animaniactoo*

    If you apply it to everyone, but it has an unequal impact on group who all have a common defining character, it becomes discriminatory by fact of the result for that group as a difference from the rest of the company.

    So if this impacts parents in a way that penalizes them for having parental responsibilities at a point where there AREN’T any other realistic options for most of them, then it’s discriminatory.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Nesting fail from a comment above when I forgot to put in my username and got kicked back. Was in reference to Ann O’Nemity above who was arguing that a policy that was applied equally to everyone could not be discriminatory in nature.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Update: Not necessarily a legal definition of discriminatory in the same way that harassment has a protected specific legal context and a general context.

        1. Anonymath*

          The words I think we’re all looking for here is “disparate impact.” When rules that appear to be equally applied to all have a greater effect on a protected group than others.

          In the US it might be a violation of Title VII if it has a disparate impact based on sex. But you’d have to prove it in court, which may be more hassle than its worth.

  42. NW Mossy*

    This employer seems to falling into what economists call the fallacy of the rational man. Classical economic models are oversimplified constructs that assume everyone makes decisions on a purely rational, utilitarian basis and are not swayed by biases, misinformation, or seemingly unrelated factors.

    This employer’s model is the most simplified version of a labor market – pay for 40 hours of work, get back 40+ hours of economic value. Their behavior is consistent with that model – they expect their employees to hold up the 40+ hours of value part to justify the paying for 40 hours part. The fundamental problem, of course, is that their model got massively broken by the external factor of a global pandemic. That factor took away choices that would ordinarily be available to people, making the model even more unrepresentative of reality than usual.

    If they’re adamant that they don’t want to pay more than they’re getting back in value, the more ethically consistent stance to take here is to explicitly reduce their payroll costs until the payroll costs balance the value created again. There are thousands upon thousands of organizations worldwide doing exactly that. It’s not a particularly human-centered solution, but it’s at least mathematically honest.

  43. White Peonies*

    Can you work where your kids are, move your computer around? If not set up base in the living room its not idea but since this started I’ve been working out of all rooms in our house (our closet is where I do video calls). I’m in health Insurance but not in a production job anymore and we track by how often your Instant Messenger goes on away, if you are on production I think they track as you complete a claim or a record. Also make it a game for the kids if someone notices mommy’s work computer screen goes blue or the bell dings for a IM they alert me and get a prize.

  44. The WH chick*

    I haven’t been on the work from home side I’ve been at work. We have stayed open and functioning pretty well actually. But we have some equipment we use that does track us. Too funny though. I put my away to switch over tomatoes different shift doing something totally unrelated to what I normally do. When I came back to my area a few days later I had a message about idle time. I was like yeah it was idle … I wasn’t doing my normal job. Did you ever bother to check my punches…. I was on another shift. Did you even read YOUR emails? What were YOU doing? No answer from said person other than “good job!”

  45. WompWomp*

    Be careful advising people about the 12 weeks of leave available under recent legislation. The OP specifically mentioned that she is in healthcare and the legislation specifically exempted healthcare providers from the childcare-related leaves.

      1. Wo*

        There’s a pretty expansive definition of what counts as a healthcare provider for the exemption. It includes any entity that contracts with health providers, etc. Even being healthcare-adjacent could mean they’re not obligated. I understand from other comments that it’s a moot point since they’re a huge company and exempt that way.

    1. Lady Heather*

      That exemption clause doesn’t have a ‘in which case your children are eligible for daycare’ tacked to it?

      A few countries in Europe are doing it that way – local government or schools are responsible to arrange childcare for parents that work in healthcare.

  46. OP*

    Thank you to Alison and all the readers who gave advice and shared their own stories!
    I just want to clarify some things and answer a couple questions I saw in the comments….
    I work for this company fulltime for almost 8 years, not a contract worker, and I’m salaried. Right now, we are doing phone calls and checking on our cases, which really doesn’t take much time. Our regular work is busy, but is the same repetitive tasks so if you know your way around a computer, you can finish on time. Phone use is not a large part of the job, I can go weeks without getting/making a phone call at work.
    I’m not actually homeschooling my kids, that was the wrong word for me to use. It’s more of distance learning. I have to make sure they do zoom meetings, help them with assignments and make sure they turned in their work by the daily deadline (3pm). I also have more than 2 kids so this is for each child (my husband is very involved and helpful but he works a high stress job). But I always make sure all my assigned work is done. Also, although the company is very rigid on times, there is plenty of work that could be completed after hours if they would allow it. The only thing that must be done during regular hours is processing any urgent/expedited requests….we don’t get many of them.
    I’m a very efficient worker, but only if I can work in spurts. It’s very difficult for me to just remain seated for 8 hours straight to avoid having idle time. This employer is all about having your butt in the seat, which to me is unreasonable. I’ve never had a job with this mindset. I’ve asked my manager for more tasks but she never gives me any. We are supposed to be doing career development so I’ve also asked her for side tasks related to my career plan. She never has any and doesn’t know when she will.
    I’m in college to get an advanced degree in a field that’s very much needed in the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, I have 2 years left and this field is very difficult to get into without an advanced degree or having at least a few years experience. I was hoping to stay at this company, even after obtaining the degree, but I’ve been considering looking for another job now. I’m hoping to find a company that truly cares about its employees and their career development (maybe no such company exists).
    I will definitely take Alison’s suggestion and talk to some of my other coworkers who are in the same situation as me. Because I always work from home and never seen any of my coworkers, that’s something I probably would not have thought of. I’m also going to think about some of the suggestions in the comments, like attaching something to make the mouse move. I actually did think of that awhile ago but I just need to make sure the tracking software doesn’t also track time in applications. I know it can see what websites you’re on, but I don’t know what else it can track.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      I work the same way; I don’t do well with having to be 100% productive 100% of the time. Honestly I don’t think anyone does! Like I said above, even freaking machines need breaks or they overheat!!! And it’s even more ridiculous for employers to expect that kind of work right now, in the middle of a pandemic, when people are worrying about their health and finances and children’s education and even something as mundane as finding pantry staples! I just…AUGH!

      I really truly hope you are able to organize a group to push back on this ridiculousness and that everything works out for you.

  47. Black Horse Dancing*

    I am amused at all the people outraged at a boss wanting to commit fraud but are a-ok with an employee committing ‘fraud’ against their company. Look, OP is doing her job. The company, however, is stating “You need to be active (work) these hours. Here are your breaks. That’s it.” It may be wrong headed, thick, whatever, but they have the right to set their hours and expectations. Employees can push back but that employer doesn’t have to listen. If they want OP working 8 AM – 5 PM M-F am, they can set that requirement. It sucks that they set tracking but they have. OP, do the dunking bird if you want (I probably would) but don’t be surprised if someone sends an email and expects an immediate response and you’re not there.

    1. Batgirl*

      I’m really interested as to what a possible non fraudulent response would actually look like even if she caged her children. They give OP three hours of daily work. They want the tracker to pick her up on several hours of mouse movement. She’s tried telling them very honestly and is asking them for more work. They don’t want her to do more, they just want it to look like more. What options does that leave?

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Everyone complaining about the shake machine always being down for cleaning when they go to McD’s? It’s because there’s no work to do except clean, so they deep-clean the shake machine or the fryer.

        This is the same, except swap a drinky-bird to type in Notepad instead of cleaning the shake machine.

    2. Dahlia*

      You know, you can set your phone to make noise and vibrate when an email comes in.

      If you have 3 hours of work to do in each 8 hour day, what do you do for the other 5 hours? And what do you expect OP to do with their children? Lock them in the basement with a litter box and food dish?

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        I don’t expect her to lock away her kids and never suggested that. I plainly stated the company has the right to require workers to be at their desk/work at defined hours. It’s a crappy situation. My point was that so many people get outraged at fraud and lying yet are suggesting the OP do something similar. If the tracking software is good, it may see she’s done nothing for four hours. What should she do? What Alison uggested. Plus perhaps webinars, online training etc. Many times people have no work yet must remain at a desk/phone waiting for work/calls to come. It appears that is what this work wants as well.

        1. Taniwha Girl*

          This. Is. Not. Normal. Times.

          If OP is doing all her work AND managing to keep her family cared for, who cares if her mouse moves constantly?
          Either the employer wants the work done, or they want OP’s butt in the chair. Can’t have it both ways.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            But they can have it both ways. They can state ‘Work these hours and get it done, and your butt needs to be in the chair. ‘ It’s done all the time.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              It is done all the time, but when done when there is no practical reason related to the nature of the work, that makes the one doing it a shitty employer, and a place good employees will not want to work. It should not be a goal to be the place where only the desperate and subservient stick around. High performers will have better options from employers that treat them like capable humans, and they will go there.

        2. Meepmeep*

          So does she then leave her job? Just like every other parent? That seems to be the only option. Would the employer then have enough childless, single young men with no dependents to staff this company? And would they be required to leave after getting married?

          And how did we end up back in the 1950’s?

    3. fhqwhgads*

      In this case she’s “engaged to wait”, rather than “waiting to be engaged”. She’s also exempt, which means if her work is done, it doesn’t matter exactly how many hours she puts in. She’s asked for more assignments and not received any. She is not deceiving her employer in any way. The primary point of contention is “and while you wait, sit at this computer and stare at the screen until something more comes up to do and if you finish wait some more in that same chair” vs “do some other things in the house periodically during that waiting period, but when the works does come in, do it”.

  48. Catabodua*

    Lots of idea I have have been mentioned already. I am fully in agreement to figure out how they are tracking productivity (is it keyboard usage, idle time on the VPN?) then create a system to look like you are being busy with some of the tips above.

  49. LGC*


    One thing I didn’t pick up on is…I haven’t gone through the comments yet, but in the letter, LW doesn’t specify whether they’re an hourly worker or a salaried worker. (It sounds like they’re hourly because they talk about unpaid lunch.) So it sounds like management wants 8 (or whatever your full workday is) hours of work because you’re paid by the hour, not a flat rate for your services.

    That said:

    1) It doesn’t sound like you have enough work for a full 8-hour day. You said your workload was shifted to clerical work, and you’re completing tasks on schedule even when you don’t have full attention on work.
    2) It doesn’t sound like the work necessarily needs to be done during “work hours,” from your description.
    3) Your boss is being callous and cruel. I put this in bold because while I can follow the logic behind her demands and management’s demands, this is truly unworkable unless you have a partner that’s not working (or you don’t have kids).

    I think if anything, 2) might be the easiest avenue of attack, unfortunately. If you can possibly start with asking for more flexible schedules, that might be the first thing they “give” on.

    1. LGC*

      Read OP’s comment and…they’re doing this to SALARIED workers?! Then they have literally no excuse.

      (I’m hourly and ended up WFH for a couple of months, in a similar situation. What happened was that I…basically got treated like I was salaried, but I put in 7 hours each day and was mostly available during business hours.)

  50. Rebekha*

    You can’t homeschool your child and work at the same time. You are doing both badly instead of either well.

    It really annoys me when parents think they should get special treatment because they have a kid. Everyone else is expected to be doing their work, doing their hours, hitting their targets. It shouldn’t be anyone else’s problem or someone else’s burden because you have a kid. Pandemic or no pandemic. I mean in this case OP says she is meeting the expected productivity targets and still getting her work done within core hours, but there are plenty of others out there who aren’t. And that you get to claim discrimination while meeting (or not meeting) the bare minimum while the rest of us are expected to leave our personal lives/problems on the other side of the door…

    1. we're basically gods*

      This is…incredibly uncharitable. People with kids are put in a no win situation. I’d encourage you to re-read the commenting rules here, because this is both unkind and violates the expectation of taking letter writers at their word.

    2. mayfly*

      Are you OP’s management? These. aren’t. normal. times. There’s no special treatment here. None of us want to be homeschooling and working at home. We’re not trying to sneak something past our companies; normally I pay thousands of dollars a month for care for my kids in order to be able to work. But all the assistance to parents has been closed. Technically, I’m not even allowed to hire a nanny in my county right now. Short of turning our kids over to to the state, there’s literally nothing we can do.
      Your attitude reminds me of all the people hating on families using food assistance programs right now, because they should have apparently foreseen a global pandemic, massive layoffs, and not had kids accordingly.

    3. Catabodua*

      Please don’t get in to a management role until your EQ grows to include empathy.

    4. Batgirl*

      “get special treatment because they have a kid”
      It’s a pandemic. People need special treatment because of a pandemic. People are going to have family emergencies in a pandemic. Guess what? Simply not having kids won’t make you immune from personal emergencies right now.

    5. Sir Lena Clare*

      Jeez, there’s always one. Unless you’re OP’s boss?!

      This is a different situation than choosing to have children, then not sending them to childcare while you also try to work full time in order to save money.

      This is a situation that the OP is in through no fault of their own.

      A little compassion might go a long way! You never know when you will need it in your future…

    6. Wow*

      haha you are so out of touch. Who do you think will be supporting your economy when you retire? It the kids others are raising. THERE IS A PANDEMIC young kids can’t look after themselves. If you have a solution to the issue then I’d like to hear it.

      1. mayfly*

        What really chaps my hide is that if I did let my kids go semi-feral in the yard and one of them got hurt, the same people who think parents get “special treatment” would be the ones mercilessly judging me for not hovering over them to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves.

    7. Dahlia*

      Wow. Have you even talked to a parent lately to figure out what they’re dealing with? Even once?

    8. Taniwha Girl*

      How dare you.

      I hope you are enjoying the social isolation in your house during this pandemic. Because if you don’t think society is your problem, then you are free to opt out of society. Have fun never hiring younger workers, not having your retirement paid for, having no new music to listen to, and having no one care for you when you need help. You are someone’s kid, aren’t you? I hope no one treated your parents like you treat other parents.

    9. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Given your expert knowledge then; how do you recommend the OP deal with this?

      (Seriously, I’m curious)

      ((Also seriously, I’m vocally childfree. I’d never say anything as dismissive as you did. Please consider that having children during a global pandemic of a deadly virus is not illegal))

    10. Meepmeep*

      So what should the OP do? Here she is. She’s got a kid. That kid needs to be interacting with someone, or they grow up psychologically damaged. The only “someone” available is OP. There is no school or childcare available because we are in a pandemic. What do you, in your infinite wisdom, recommend for the OP to do?

    11. Grapey*

      Philosophically I live my life like I agree with you, but practically, that’s not how the world should work.

      “It shouldn’t be anyone else’s problem or someone else’s burden because you have a kid.”
      It is society’s burden. I don’t want someone to come to me personally to fix their broken leg that they might have gotten doing something stupid that I disagree with. I’d want them to go to a hospital and get treated by a well paid skilled person that is funded through a pool of money citizens pay into to take care of important things. We need to do the same with childcare. Meaning have it be essential and available 24/7 including hazard pay.

  51. lilsheba*

    First off I LOVE the suggestions people are coming up with to defeat this draconian practice! That is beyond awesome. Secondly, welcome to the world of what us call center people go through every single day. Every thing is tracked, we are only supposed to log out of “ready” status for breaks and lunch, nothing else. There is schedule adherence that has metrics attached to it, you are supposed to be at 94 percent every day blah blah blah. No other breaks, etc. Well I got news for them, if I have to go to the restroom or something I’m going I don’t care about adherence. And if I need a mental health break I’m taking it. I really hate being micromanaged to death like a I’m a 5 year old.

    My work has been paying me to stay home for 3 months now because I’m of compromised health, and they initially refused to let us work from home. Then about a month ago they said ok we’ll set up trainings to have you work from home. I have yet to be be scheduled for this and I’m starting to think it is a hoax :/. I don’t understand what is taking so damn long. And for June they said to continue to be paid the quarantine pay we had to provide a note from a dr saying that they advised us to stay under quarantine due to being a pre existing condition. Well my dr. won’t do that, she will provide a note confirming I have pre existing conditions that are making me health compromised, but they won’t advise I need to stay quarantined. I’ve submitted that info and I’ve been anxious all through June thinking they’re going to decline it and I’ll have to pay back what they’ve paid me already. Lovely way to live. So I’ve gotten no word at all, not on the leave or on starting to work from home. I really don’t get it. But if they ever do get it together, I’ll be under the same crap here, being micromanaged to death and tracked for every little thing, because yeah they believe you have to spend every single second working/in production unless on a scheduled break or lunch. It reminds me of the old stupid phrase “if you have time to lean you have time to clean” It amounts to the same thing.

  52. Wow*

    Your management is being insane. You have no options and they are making you scared they will fire you. If all else fails meet crazy with crazy. Use a mouse moving software or something that will keep your productive session open when you need to care for your kids. I think it is fair in this situation to reply in kind to callous behaviour. If you get your work done no one is the worse off.

  53. gurbles*

    Not taking breaks while working at home on the computer is how COVID gave me a repetitive strain injury in both wrists. Take care.

  54. ClickyClicky*

    I work for a large pharmacy that has always had this sort of tracker on the laptops, it’s a requirement for working from home. But there is also a set realistic idle time that you can average during the work day and when you lock your computer, it turns off the timer.

    Please, if they are going to get this deep into it, do NOT get any of the suggestions to keep your mouse clicking. They will absolutely swing the other way and wonder how you went from a high idle time to nothing.

  55. Tracey*

    As stated in the article, it’s all in the wording (and timing). As for the actual schooling of your child, could that not be done in off hours? could you and your husband reach out to your respective bosses and ask for flex time. maybe you work 4 hours, husband cares for child then switch until you both have put in 8 hrs total?
    good luck

  56. New Senior Manager*

    I don’t know if this has already been mentioned, but there is a New York Times article, How 132 Epidemiologists are Deciding When to Send their Children Back to School (Last updated June 14, 2020). I hope it is helpful for someone.

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