Town hall presents options for working parents

By Valerie Alba

Thursday, August 27, 2020

poster of kids wearing masks
WORK SAFE, PLAY SAFE — Systems research analyst Eva Uribe designed this poster for a contest hosted by Sandia’s Homeland Security and Defense Center. Employees submitted lighthearted images of ways to conduct work safely at home and on-site during the pandemic. (Image by Eva Uribe)

The Integrated Security Solutions division held a town hall on Aug. 11 for parents who are balancing work and childcare responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 475 employees participated in the Skype event hosted by Deputy Associate Labs Director Marcey Hoover and Human Resources Director Rob Nelson. Florencia Prada, manager of California’s communications department, facilitated the discussion, which also included Mary Romero Hart, senior manager of Sandia’s Total Rewards benefits program.

The town hall centered around several topics affecting working parents, including schedule flexibility, the temporary vacation donation program, expanded open enrollment options and support for caregivers. The presenters answered questions from employees throughout the session.

“We recognize, as the school year approaches — and has even started for some —that there’s a lot of questions and concerns for our parent population. Rob’s team has been doing a lot to help us look at and address some of the questions and concerns,” Marcey said. She thanked the Sandia Parents Group, both in California and New Mexico, for developing creative solutions for working parents.

In his opening remarks, Rob said, “I reflect most on what (Labs Director) James Peery has reiterated in his messaging, which is that we need ultimate flexibility in this time, and let’s deploy tools wherever possible to make sure that we can keep people productive and effectively balancing their work and their life obligations.”

Flexible schedules

“The current feeling is that we will continue maximum flexibility until we’re through the pandemic,” Rob said, “and so we have made commitments to offering and increasing flexibility around work hours and available options for people to switch back and forth their schedules, and we intend to keep that going as long as we can during the pandemic.”

“The laboratory is very committed to continuing flexible options as we go into the next year,” he said. Options for employees include adjusting their work start and stop times or opting into the vacation donation program.

Expanded vacation donation

Employees who need to take time off work to care for children can opt into the vacation donation program, to which Sandia employees have donated thousands of hours to colleagues who need them.

“The intention is to fill in for those hours when it’s not possible to work out the work/life balance,” Rob said. “We have plenty of hours available currently, thanks to everyone who has donated very generously.”

The salary cap for eligible employees also was increased, and Mary said, “We’re continuing to explore what we can change within the provisions of the IRS guidance in order to maintain the status that we want to have in this space.”

Midyear open enrollment

Sandia is offering a midyear open enrollment program through Sept. 15 for employees to increase, reduce or discontinue their participation in the Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account to help with new or deferred childcare costs due to the pandemic. The FSA allows employees to use pretax dollars on dependent care needs, which also now includes caring for a parent. Employees also can change their contributions to their Health Care Spending Account through Sept. 15.

Support for caregivers

Employees are encouraged to talk with their team members and management about workloads and flexibility, Rob said. “We’re going to get through this together, and it requires understanding what our coworkers need and thinking about how we can adjust our schedules as well, if we’re not in that situation, to help out people who are juggling lots of demands on their own schedules.”

The panelists encouraged parents and caregivers to connect with the Sandia Parents Group for resources and up-to-date information. Details about vacation donation, FSAs and flexible schedules, including 12 scenarios for parents balancing work and childcare, are available to employees at hr.sandia.gov.

A recording of the “Addressing the Challenges of Working Parents” town hall is available on the Integrated Security Solutions Division website, as well as a transcript of the Skype chat and timestamps for the topics covered in the presentation.