Should employees with a child that has special needs be expected to work from home during quarantine as well as being a carer to their child?
We are living through unprecedented times, leading to an increase in challenging situations that we must face daily. Covid-19 brings to light the ethical question of whether it is fair to expect employees with children who suffer from special needs to work two jobs : their current job as well as the job of caring for their child with special needs. While the government has understandably been focusing on the elderly and the immunocompromised during the Covid-19 crisis, I feel that people suffering from special needs and their families have been overlooked.
While exploring this ethical question I will be focusing on parents with children who suffer from low incidence special needs. Low incidence special needs can be defined as: ‘Special needs that occur infrequently in the general population. They tend to be severe in nature in that the child’s overall development is often highly affected by the special need’ (reference) . Examples of low incidence special needs include Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Developmental Cognitive Disability (DCD) and Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH).
Reasons why I think employees should have to work from home while caring for their child with special needs:
Firstly, all employees are being paid to carry out their job correctly and have signed a legal contract expecting a certain amount and a standard to the work being completed. Employees have a contractual obligation and responsibility to carry out their work in return for an annual sum of money.
Secondly, why should an employer have to make an allowance for one employee while all employees have different family situations that they may wish to be kept private? If an employer decides to make an allowance for an employee, how should they decide which family situations are worthy of an allowance being made. This could lead to a lack of fairness as this decision on which family situation is ‘bad’ enough will be based on the employer's opinion. Who has the right to decide whether someone living with domestic violence is suffering as much as a parent trying to work a 9-5 job while looking after a severely autistic child that suffers from violent mood swings? While these are both awful and traumatic situations to be in during this stressful time, it is impossible to make an allowance for one employee and not others.
Reasons why I think employees shouldn’t have to work from home while caring for their child with special needs:
Firstly, is it fair to expect an employee to undertake the care of their child because it belongs to the 66,000 intellectually disabled people under the age of 18 in Ireland? (reference)? While these disabilities vary greatly from around-the-clock supervision to needing extra help completing homework, they still place a strain on a parent trying to carry out their job.
Secondly, should an employee have to risk losing their job or part of their income due to incompetence to ensure that their child kept safe? Employers may feel that they must cut wages if work is not being carried out properly, as the employee may now have to spend time trying to care for their child rather than completing tasks from work.
Thirdly, many parents originally were only able to carry out their jobs properly because they had been receiving financial aid from the government to pay for a nurse to care for their child or expensive medication. Due to social distancing rules during quarantine this service of a nurse is no longer available, leaving parents stranded. Any parents that have been made redundant are now receiving the 350 euro a week unemployment benefit and still have to pay for expensive medication or equipment to ensure their child stays safe and healthy. This is on top of their day-to-day expenses such as rent, leading to increased financial strain and stress on the employee's mental health.
There is no right answer to tackle these difficult situations, but I hope I have provided you with some food for thought. Covid-19 has taught mankind a lesson in humility, reminding us that we are not an invincible race. If a global pandemic could occur so easily and in such a short space of time, we must prepare for the fact that this is likely to happen again. In order to prepare ourselves better we must protect our most vulnerable citizens; be that the elderly, the immunocompromised or people who suffer from special needs.
Thanks for reading.